There is a polio emergency in New York. Are you vaccinated? Am I?

Polio fits into the category of oldies but not goodies. And unfortunately, it looks like it's back and many of us are trying to figure out if we're vaccinated against this terrible virus.

It's a question a lot of millennials and Gen Z folks are asking as they have their own children and set up appointments with pediatricians to get them vaccinated.

That's because after the first polio case in nearly a decade was recently found in New York's Rockland County, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that health officials were ramping up polio-fighting efforts now that the virus was detected in the wastewater of a second county in the New York City area.

Polio is a childhood disease

My kids are vaccinated against polio, but I didn't know if I was. I have plans to travel to Europe in less than a month and I started to kind of panic – frantically searching for my own vaccination paperwork that my mom (hopefully) saved for me.

Carli Pierson's older daughter gets her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2022.
Carli Pierson's older daughter gets her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2022.

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Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a very infectious virus that mostly affects young children, and has existed since ancient times. According to the World Health Organization, it targets the nervous system and can result in spinal and respiratory paralysis, and even death. Major outbreaks in New York City killed more than 2,000 people in 1916 and over 3,000 nationwide in 1952.

We needed a vaccine, and in the early 1950s American physician Jonas Salk created the first successful one.

My oldest daughter was born in Mexico and has already been vaccinated against it four times, which is in line with what health experts recommend. Vaccination campaigns are a big deal in Mexico (where health care is socialized), and less than a year after she was born a nurse from the federal health agency came on a walking tour of our neighborhood to make sure kids had their shots.

Carrying a small cooler filled with vaccines and ice, she knocked on my door asking if I had any young children at home and if they needed vaccines.

The author with her daughter at Disneyworld in 2017.
The author with her daughter at Disneyworld in 2017.

I have family members in the United States who still believe conspiracy theories about vaccines and refuse to get vaccinated against influenza, let alone COVID-19. I have no idea what else they aren't vaccinated against.

I've tried to talk to them about it but get nowhere. It's difficult to deal with because, of course, I love them and want them to be safe.

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Anti-vaxxers put everyone at risk

Anti-vaccine extremists gained ground during COVID-19, spreading lies and dangerous conspiracy theories about vaccines, including the COVID vaccine. They are lies that put entire populations at risk because, according to the WHO, "in areas where vaccination coverage is low, the weakened vaccine virus originally contained in OPV (oral polio vaccine) can begin to circulate in undervaccinated communities.

"When this happens, if it is allowed to circulate for sufficiently long enough time, it may genetically revert to a ‘strong’ virus, able to cause paralysis, resulting in what is known as circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses."

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Carli Pierson's vaccine history
Carli Pierson's vaccine history

I don't really understand how the mechanics of that work but it scares the daylights out of me as a mother of two young children I am constantly trying to protect.

Finding my vaccine records

After a mad half-hour search, I found my vaccination papers. There it was: Between 1984 (when I was born) and 1989, I had four vaccinations against polio.

If you can't find your paperwork, contact your state's health department, some have registries (Immunization Information Systems) that include adult vaccines.

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Carli Pierson
Carli Pierson

It saddens me that so many people distrust scientific breakthroughs like vaccinations we've worked so hard to achieve. But what saddens me more is the lack of accountability for community prevention by people who refuse to get vaccinated.

When people decide not to get vaccinated against something like polio, they're not just putting their own health, or their child's health, at risk: They're putting every child at risk.

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Carli Pierson, a New York licensed attorney, is an opinion writer with USA TODAY and a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Polio emergency in New York makes me rush to see if I am vaccinated.