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Lesson from the past: polio survivor stresses importance of vaccinations

Rip Ripperger with his siblings and his wife
Posted at 12:18 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 00:18:18-04

OSSIAN — As of Monday, more than 837,000 Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination eligibility continues to expand across Indiana and the country. Federal and local officials are hoping to reach those who can get vaccinated but are deciding against it.

As they roll out their campaigns to educate those skeptical, people like Ron Ripperger are also doing their part.

"If you know somebody who doesn't believe in getting vaccinated, tell them come and see me," Ripperger said.

Better known as Rip to his friends and family, he's an advocate for all vaccines because he caught polio when he was 8.

"If the polio vaccine had come out three years earlier, I wouldn't have gotten polio," Rip said.

Polio paralyzes the muscles of the body. It left a life-long impact on Rip.

"I had it on my right side, right arm and right leg. You can see my right arm. I can move it and do things with it. Thank goodness my leg is a little stronger," Rip said.

Generations of people have forgotten the terrible impact polio had on communities before there was a vaccine.

"I grew up in Elwood, Indiana," Ripperger said. "There were two other ones I knew who got it. One was real lucky. He recovered completely. The other one was in an iron lung."

Iron lungs were used to keep people alive that had polio by stimulating breathing for them. When polio was at its worst, hospitals had dedicated wings to care for iron lung patients. The only thing you could see of the patient was their head. While some people got out of them, many patients were inside their iron lung for the rest of their lives.

"When I was in the hospital at Riley Hospital down in Indianapolis....all you could do was to look at it (iron lung ward.) It was terrible," Rip said.

He survived polio and went on to live a full life: he was into drag racing as a young man, married and had kids, an avid fisherman in his later years. His advice for those skeptical of the COVID-19? Look at the facts in front you.

"Just look at how many people have passed away from it," Rip said. "The vaccine is not going to hurt you. I think it has been proven you're not going to grow a third ear or whatever like that. If it can help you, why not get it?"

The CDC says thanks to a successful vaccination program, the US has been polio-free since 1979. Rip said he and his wife received both of their COVID-19 shots with no problems. They're excited to see friends and family again.