Laurier researchers comparing polio epidemic to COVID-19 pandemic
A team of student researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University's Brantford campus have completed a study comparing polio to COVID-19.
Polio, a viral disease, sparked an epidemic worldwide.
“Really big outbreaks in the 30s, 40s and 50s, and it particularly targeted young people whose immune systems were not so strong,” said Tarah Brookfield, associate professor of History and Children and Youth Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.
The research group interviewed 10 residents in Brantford ranging in age from 72 to 93.
Brantford resident Andrew Harris is one of the people who were involved in the study.
He was around six years old in the 1950s and living in Manitoba when a classmate of his didn’t come back to school for the better part of a year after being diagnosed with polio.
“When he came back, he had a severe limp as a result of the polio because of the paralysis,” Harris said.
Researchers said there are a lot of similarities between the two diseases.
“Similar to COVID, polio was asymptomatic. So approximately 70 per cent of the people who got it didn’t know they had it,” said Brookfield.
Harris said he also noticed many similar aspects after living through both crises.
“The fear, the anxiety and the reluctance. There was pushback back then too,” said Harris.
Researchers said there weren’t as many polio cases as there have been COVID-19 cases.
“Cases in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands,” said Tyler Britz, a research student.
The polio vaccine took a long time to develop as medicine wasn't as advanced 70 years ago.
“I was part of the experimental group that got the initial needles. Those three needles, plus a booster,” Harris said, recalling being part of the test trials when he was a young boy.
When the vaccine was developed in the 1950s, many Canadian children were immunized fast.
“All kids in Brant and Brant County, they all got vaccinated on the same day,” said Britz.
Another similar aspect was the public health tactics used in both cases. Those with polio were forced to quarantine. Residents were also asked to do their due diligence and be safe around others.
“Don’t touch water, don’t drink water out of the fountain at school, don’t go in the swimming pool,” Harris said.
While fear and uncertainty plagued both the polio epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic, Harris said he is optimistic.
“It’s on its way out,” he said.