Though vaccines are significant part of its history, skepticism remains in Protection

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 5:42 PM CST
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COMANCHE COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - For some Kansans, the COVID-19 vaccine is a sign of hope. Others may still be skeptical. That’s the case in the Comanche County town of Protection, even though vaccines are a significant part of the town’s history and put Protection on the map.

The town’s history is in its name. Protection got its name in 1884 from a proactive tariff that was a big issue in that year’s presidential election. But in the spring of 1957, its name gained new meaning when the entire town was protected from the polio pandemic. It was the first town in the nation to become fully vaccinated from the disease.

Some of the children that received the vaccine in 1957 still live in Protection. Dave Webb was eight years old at the time.

“There were hundreds of people lined up in what was at that time our school gym,” Webb remembered of being vaccinated against polio.

Steve Herd was also eight when Protection was protected from polio.

“I remember being kind of excited because there was a lot of people there,” he said. “... I remember rolling up our sleeves, and it wasn’t until I got there that I was a little nervous, because I hated shots.”

The polio vaccine took three doses and the entire town of more than 700 poeple received the first dose in one day and held a parade to celebrate the historic moment.

“My family was in the parade. Webb said. “We had dad, mom, sister, who had polio by the way and recovered in ‘53. We were supposed to be the typical Protection family.”

Herd said looking at photos and remembering the excitement in Protection, he thinks “it was generally felt that this was a wonderful thing.”

In 2021, a different pandemic threatens the country’s health and Protection’s response to COVID-19 looks much different than its response to polio. Herd said there is a division today that didn’t exist in the 50′s over how the community should handle the pandemic.

“I believe the world has become too political,” he said. “I think there’d be a lot of people fighting (polio) right now. I really do. “...It was a much simpler time.”

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