By 1979, through widespread vaccination, the United States was able to totally eradicate polio, a crippling disease that has paralyzed thousands of children around the world. This allowed American parents to forget polio’s horrific toll, and subsequently stop vaccinating their kids against it.

17 years ago, 95.4 percent of kindergarten students in Washington state were vaccinated against the disease. Now, in 2015, only 88.4 percent are inoculated statewide. In Seattle, the number drops to 81.4 percent.

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According to KUOW, that’s lower than the 2013 polio vaccination rates for one-year-olds in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, and Sudan, among a number of other countries.

The local radio station reports:

“It’s a real puzzle for us why people haven’t responded better to the news about this disease,” said Paul Throne of the state Office of Immunization and Child Profile. He thought the news reports would have scared parents. Rather, studies found the dire news appears to have emboldened them.

“We’re concerned because we need to have about 95 percent of those kids vaccinated to protect everybody else who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons or because they’re too young,” Throne said.

“Scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine, and the disease could get a foothold if we don’t maintain high vaccination rates,” said Dr. Greg Wallace, Team Lead for the Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Polio program at the CDC. “For example, an unvaccinated U.S. resident could travel abroad and become infected before returning home... The point is that one person infected with polio is all it takes to start the spread of polio to others if they are not protected by vaccination.”

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Luckily for the first unvaccinated kid to inevitably get polio, science has moved beyond the iron lung; they’ll be able to use a more comfortable ventilator, at least.


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

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