The last iron lung user: A poignant reminder of the importance of vaccines

Paul Alexander, one of the last polio victims in the world to still use an iron lung, was profiled in The Guardian four years ago. He died this week at age 78.

Mr. Alexander contracted polio in 1952, just three years before the vaccine was invented, and required an iron lung to breathe for the rest of his life. His obit in the NY Times is inspiring but at the same time oh-so harrowing. 

…the toll of living in an iron lung with polio did not stop Mr. Alexander from going to college, getting a law degree and practicing law for more than 30 years. As a boy, he taught himself to breathe for minutes and later hours at a time, but he had to use the machine every day of his life.

He may be the last person using an iron lung in America. Why? Because vaccines! Because vaccines work!  Because vaccines have saved millions of lives! Because vaccines have prevented millions more debilitating, life-ruinous diseases!! Diseases that plagued humanity for millennia were wiped out within a generation — this shouldn't be remotely controversial.

If you're too young to remember iron lungs, they were both a miracle and terrifying. Whole children's wards would be packed with these devices, keeping polio-stricken kids alive. Polio, once the scariest of scourges, was essentially eradicated overnight. But thanks to RFK, Jr. and many others spreading misinformation about vaccines, these diseases are primed to make a comeback. And when they do, the blame will fall squarely on these anti-vaxxers. A literal pox on them.