If the COVID-19 pandemic had one saving grace, it was that — at least for the most part — young children were not greatly affected. One can only imagine the hysteria had thousands of American kids wound up in emergency rooms as the virus spread in 2020. Although, perhaps one does not really need to imagine it, because in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, another “dread disease” — polio — did primarily affect young children. Unsure of the causes, nearly everything children did in those years panicked their parents — trips to the beach or pool, holding hands or sharing candy with other kids, cold water, staying up late, insects, dirty hands, theaters, buses, trains and on and on.
In Milford, there were numerous cases reported, each sparking fears that an outbreak was imminent. Just one example: Five-year-old Rickie Caswell of Orchard Street became critically ill in 1955 after developing a sore throat that affected his ability to swallow and then caused him to repeatedly choke. Caswell was rushed to Boston Children’s Hospital where for days he remained in critical condition, diagnosed with bulbar polio. Thankfully, by October, the Milford Cabinet was able to report that while the youngster was still on a liquid diet and his left leg was weak, he would likely be back in first grade before Christmas. Thousands of kids across the country were not so lucky.
But just as another summer wave of the disease seemed poised to strike, the Salk vaccine arrived just in time. In the photo here, from May 25, 1955, first-grader Richard Sliney is administered a shot by Dr. Augusta Law at the newly opened Jacques Memorial School. Before heading in for the shot, each child was given a lollipop to suck, while a bowl of ice cream awaited them on their way out.