To the editor: The success of the COVID vaccination efforts in Pittsfield and all of Berkshire County is not without precedent.
In 1963, then city of Pittsfield Board of Health Commissioner Harold Stein, M.D., conceived a plan he called "Mop Up Polio."
This was only two years after the oral polio vaccine discovered by Albert Sabin, M.D., was released for commercial use, largely replacing the injectable vaccine discovered by Jonas Salk, M.D., that had become commercially available only seven years earlier — major strides in coping with the annual summer scourge of epidemics of this sometimes fatal disease which also often left survivors with devastating aftereffects.
Dr. Stein sought the cooperation of the Berkshire District Medical Society and I was asked to spearhead the campaign. This was done with the Pittsfield School Department, making the three junior high schools available on three Sundays in September, October and November 1963 with Berkshire Community College offering a fourth site. At the time, three doses of the vaccine a month apart were necessary to achieve full immunity.
The program was a huge success with scores of health care professionals and caring citizens volunteering their time. There was no charge for the program, which also offered the opportunity to receive inoculation against flu, but contributions were accepted and donated to the Citizens Scholarship Fund. More than 13,000 residents of the city and 3,000 additional people from Dalton, Lenox and Lee were protected from polio by this campaign, a now virtually obsolete illness.
Congratulations to all who have received COVID protection and encouragement to those who have been hesitant to also do so. Will doing so make this infection disappear? Probably not, but if herd immunity is achieved, maybe so. We did it before and we can try to do it again.
Dr. Henry Tulgan, Pittsfield
The writer is a professor of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School.