Remembering a time when polio was the dominant life-threatening virus

A moment several Roanoke County residents remember all too well

ROANOKE, Va. – The government is currently amidst the biggest vaccine push in history.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, back in the 1950s, polio was the life-threatening virus people were worried about.

It’s a moment several Roanoke County residents remember all too well.

Watching people wait in long lines to receive their coronavirus vaccine, Carla Pickeral had a moment of nostalgia.

Carla Pickeral talking with 10 News on Feb. 25, 2021. (WSLS 10)

“Lined up, like you see pictures of soldiers,” Pickeral said. “Get your shot, get your shot, get your shot.”

Despite being just 8 years old at the time, she remembers lining up to get her polio vaccine.

It’s a similar feeling for the Cunninghams, who inched closer and closer to get their coronavirus doses at the Berglund Center in late January.

Judy and Jim Cunningham taking with 10 News on Feb. 25, 2021. (WSLS 10)

They remembered boarding buses to get the polio vaccine and how excited they were to just get out of school.

“A day to get out of school to go on a field trip,” recalled Jim Cunningham.

“I remember we got a little lollipop after and of course, that was a big treat for a child back then,” said Judy Cunningham.

She remembered her two friends wearing braces on their legs after getting diagnosed with polio.

Jim could recall a similar scene as his neighbor “couldn’t hold his head up” and needed a neck brace to hold his head.

A fearful reality for Carla when people were being treated at the hospital.

“They put them in those iron lungs that breathed for them,” she said. “And it was a scary thing back then.”

Flash forward to now, with more than 500,000 deaths in the U.S from the coronavirus, the Ad Council is coming out in full force to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

With more technology available, the Ad Council hopes the message will spread faster than in the 1950s.

“In a much quicker way than probably a slower build back when there was polio,” Ad Council Chief Campaign Development Officer Michelle Hillman said.

While Carla waits to get her dose, the Cunninghams will continue to help register their friends and neighbors to end this pandemic for once and for all.

“The more people that have the vaccine...hopefully it’s gonna work,” Judy said. “So anything we can do to help.”


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