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Polio is back. And that's about as funny as a crutch. - (8/16/2022)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro
 
G
reg, 33, is a standup comedian. He performs two shows twice a week at the comedy club two blocks from the pharmacy. One day, he was hanging around the store and said to the pharmacist, "Hey, Doc, is that monkeypox vaccine in yet?" "Any day now," the pharmacist dead-panned. "I might not get the shot. I heard monkeypox is not as bad as COVID," Greg said. "You take your chances," replied the pharmacist.

Greg's current comedic schtick is making fun of people with disabilities. "Obnoxious" is the word the pharmacist uses to describe Greg's stage shows. "Hey, Doc, I'm working on a set of monkeypox jokes," announced Greg. "Here's one. 'I must have that new monkeypox virus because I think I'm going bananas!'" The pharmacist rolled his eyes. His COVID jokes were worse: "Used to be you would cough to cover up a fart. Now, with COVID, you fart to cover up a cough!" Tasteless. "Hey, Doc, I heard that polio is back. I found a bunch of polio jokes online." 

"Polio walks into a bar, and no one walks out. Get it?" joked Greg. Yes, the pharmacist got it. Polio can cripple. Polio is a viral infection with symptoms such as headache, muscle stiffness, and permanent paralysis. While the virus has been around for millennia, scientists only first identified it in the early 20th century. Major outbreaks occurred during the late 19th century in both the US and Europe. By the mid-20th century, polio became one of the most dreaded childhood illnesses.   

"What does someone with polio get for breakfast?" asked Greg. "Scrambled legs!" Distasteful, thought the pharmacist. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, many images of children were seen wearing braces, using crutches, and even being encased in iron lungs so they could breathe. Then, following World War 2, numerous polio epidemics popped up, scaring the bejesus out of America. As with COVID, people avoided crowds and gatherings such as fairs, pools, and movie theatres. 

"What sport was all the rage with unvaccinated kids who got polio?" Greg blurted out. "Water polio!"  Vulgar, scowled the pharmacist. In 1955, the first polio vaccine was approved, and the number of cases dropped dramatically. By 2020, zero cases were reported in the US. But in 2022, polio crept back into our lives. In July 2022, NY State had the first US case in a decade. The unvaccinated "patient zero" eventually developed paralysis. In August, the NY State Health Commissioner said polio had been detected in New York City wastewater, calling the findings "alarming." The polio virus has since spread into two other counties.  
 
"What did 1950s kids get that 2020s kids may get?" Greg asked sarcastically. "Polio!" Sad but true, admitted the pharmacist. Many disease outbreaks start small and end up horrifically prolific. Polio is highly contagious, and no cure exists. So, the vaccine is the only way to prevent it. But problems exist. First, the anti-vaxxer movement may be hit hard, with expensive therapies burdening our healthcare system. Second, older people may have had the vaccine many decades ago. Do they need boosters? Third, can we weather another round of face masks and isolationism? The vaccine has saved millions of lives. They have been part of the routine vaccinations young children get for many generations. That is why this handful of cases is so disturbing at this point. 

As for Greg's disability jokes, however snarky and unkind, they form a pattern. People laugh because no matter how ignorant, uneducated, and unfeeling as they are, they make themselves feel better because they can do something the disabled person cannot: walk, talk, breathe. Evidently, there is always a market for jokes at the expense of others.     
    
Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.
 


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