I'm Mark Sternhagen from Scotland, South Dakota, and I had polio.
What was your experience with polio?
The soft vaccine was certified in 1955. It was in short supply, so my hometown of Scotland, South Dakota was in a very short supply. My aunt Donna was a registered nurse with the main doctor in town, so when the vaccine came to town, she made sure that her kids and her nephews were vaccinated.
I couldn't be because I was running a temp, and the protocol was, if they're running a temp, you cannot vaccinate. And they didn't know enough, it was a new vaccine, they really didn't know enough about it. What we know today about the soft vaccine would say, "It probably was safe."
That next August during what used to be called polio season, I contracted polio. No one else in my family...no one else around did. I got it, they didn't. My mom has felt some guilt along the way, and I keep telling her, "Mom, there's not a damn thing you could've done." You know, it is what it is, but can you imagine if you chose...you know, consciously chose to not vaccinate your child, your child contracted polio, became this child on the cover of my book. How would you possibly live with yourself? You could have prevented it, and you didn't.
Why do you feel children should be vaccinated?
Science tells us that it's safe and effective, pretty much everything that has come out against vaccination is either complete nonsense or mostly nonsense. And to listen to that versus doing the right thing by your child is just, I think, wrong. And I still...I can't understand it, why you would rather do that. I think part of it is, people are looking for something to blame for whatever. You know, sometimes things just happen.
What was your life like during the polio epidemic?
People want to forget, they don't want to think about what it was like to have these little children running around like this. What it was like...you know, in the old days, polio was the boogeyman. People were scared to death of polio and they should have been, people died from it. They would quarantine towns, they would shut down things like movie theaters, not schools so much because it was generally during the summer. Churches, things like that, any place where people would congregate.
People would lock themselves in their houses and lock their children in, and this was back before air conditioning was real. Can you imagine summer in South Dakota? Everything closed down, no air conditioning and you're just sitting there, hoping that no one gets it.
Why are vaccines important?
People need to realize, that's real, that happened. And we don't want to go back to that, and we can prevent it, and vaccination is how. Diseases like polio have no cure, there is no possible cure. The only way is prevention, and the only way to prevent it is vaccination.