Remembering another mass vaccination effort in Minn., for polio

Kathy Petersen, 72, was a first-grader in Mankato when she received the polio vaccine. Her sister had been paralyzed from the neck down after a devastating bout with the virus, and Petersen thinks that’s why she was picked for an early dose.

“The cameras were on me, or maybe it was just a camera from the Mankato Free Press, and I didn’t know why that was happening. But the doctor sat down next to me, and all of a sudden the camera was going off.”

Petersen is struck by how similar images of those first polio shots are to photos of COVID-19 vaccines being given — and emotionally, she says she feels a similar sense of relief.  

“The minute those vaccines were starting — watching that first person get a shot — there was a real joy in my heart. You know, not just lessening the disease, but lessening the fear and the anxiety that we all have about this.”

For the story behind the polio vaccine rollout in Minnesota, MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with medical historian Jennifer Gunn. She directs the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota.

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