The Link Between Polio And COVID

Black doctor administering a vaccination shot to Black patient
Leslie Grover-Taylor
May 14, 2021

In the 1900s, there was another disease that killed our people at high rates. Like COVID, this disease also occurred during a time when we were being brutalized and murdered. Like COVID, it was a virus. And like COVID, there wasn’t much known about why the disease behaved the way it did. What was this disease?

Polio. The outbreak became so deadly that when a vaccine became available, everyone was encouraged to get it. Even President Roosevelt contracted polio, and ended up with serious health conditions. So what is the big takeaway for us as we battle COVID today?

When polio became widespread, many thought Black people couldn’t catch it – that it was a white disease. It was the same when COVID started! In both cases, it simply wasn’t true – and it had major effects.

We lacked medical access because of segregation. In fact, it took over 40 years for our people to finally get the polio vaccine. Segregation also prevented Black doctors and nurses from receiving training on treating it! So aside from getting vaccinated, what else can we do so that COVID doesn’t become another polio?

Segregation has only changed along with the times – we’re still at risk of suffering the most from COVID. We must transform inequities in health care so we can increase health and well-being for all of our people.

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