Introduction

The worldwide onset of COVID-19 in 2020 awoke public interest in understanding how Canadians confronted past pandemics.

We were inspired to compare the similarities between the scourge of Poliomyelitis in the decades leading up to the 1955 discovery of the Salk vaccine and the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. 

We discovered many similarities. Both public health crises were shaped by uncertainty and fear. Attempts to contain each virus were made via school closures, quarantines of those sick or suspected to be ill, and advice about the merits of handwashing. Wild guesses were made at the causes of each infection. Hope for a cure and vaccine ran deep in both eras.

Another connection between the two pandemics is how the last generation to experience widespread polio in Canada are in the age group deemed most at risk for COVID today.

“One Generation's Experiences in Two Pandemics” shares the oral histories of ten current or former residents of Brantford and Brant County, Ontario who grew up with the threat of polio between 1930s-1950s and with COVID-19 in 2020-2021.

August 24 1953 Polio Announcement
Summer was Polio season. Cases were reported almost daily across Brantford and Brant County in July through to September. Brantford Expositor, 14 August 1953.
Introduction