I was a kid during the polio epidemic of the 1950s, and the disease terrified me.
I knew two kids who wore steel braces on their legs due to polio, and I saw pictures of children with their heads poking out of iron lungs--very scary!
Then Dr. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, and grownups sighed with relief. All parents had to do to protect their children from polio was have them vaccinated.
But we kids were as frightened of the vaccine as we were by polio.
Syringes in the 1950s were enormous. In those days, the needles were used again and again, and eventually, they got dull. The needle on a polio syringe looked as big as a number 2 pencil from my second-grader perspective--an unsharpened number 2 pencil!
In my town, children got their polio vaccines at school. I was in Mrs. Vaughn's second-grade class, and she lined us up for the long march down to the principal's office.
I heard children ahead of me screaming in terror at the prospect of getting stuck with a big needle. In some cases, kids went postal, and teachers had to call parents to help physically restrain their children.
But, by God, all the kids got vaccinated, and eventually, polio was eradicated in the United States.
Why was America successful in wiping out the polio scourge? Because getting the polio shot was not optional. Mr. Bailey, the school principal, did not ask me if I wanted to be vaccinated. I would have told him no. And Mr. Bailey didn't give me a little prize as a reward for having a nail-sized needle stuck in my arm.
So I was surprised by the news that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering New Yorkers a free hamburger if they get the coronavirus vaccine. I watched a video of Mayor de Blasio munching on a burger while cajoling his constituents to get their COVID shot.
Conservative commentators are making fun of Mr. de Blasio for his hamburger gambit, but I'm on the Mayor's side. If New Yorkers won't get vaccinated unless you give them a hamburger, I say give them a goddamned hamburger.
And if they hold out for a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake, I say give them whatever they demand. Hell, give them a Tesla!
But what have we become as a nation when we have to bribe Americans to do the right thing? So far, the coronavirus has killed half a million people in the United States. Why wouldn't everyone do their small part to help stop the COVID pandemic? Do we really need to give out hamburgers?