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Healthwatch 16: Polio survivor urges everyone to get vaccinated

Marilyn Kass was just a child when she got polio. She thinks everyone needs to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — A woman from Luzerne County has become passionate about getting people vaccinated against COVID-19.

Marilyn Kass, 71, was just a child when she got polio, for which a vaccine was created just a few months later.

"Get the vaccine! Living with a disability is not pleasant!"

Kass and her daughter Jana are both from Dallas. Jana works for Geisinger but was here as support for her mother as she shared a personal story.

When Marilyn was 3, living with her family in the Bronx, she contracted polio.

"A lot of people died, a lot of people got totally better, and a lot of people got disabled. I'm one who got disabled from the polio."

Marilyn went on to live a full life but says the effects of the disease have been lifelong.

She uses a walker, asking viewers to imagine curbs, sidewalks, restaurants, grocery shopping, restrooms, and banisters. To her, everything is an obstacle.

"One of her legs is shorter than the other," Jana said. "There's some malformation. She had to have a bunch of surgeries as well. But I'd say today it's muscles and the inability to control one of her legs."

The worst part, according to Marilyn, is she missed being able to get the polio vaccine.

"I missed it probably by about 6 to 8 months."

Dr. Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for Geisinger, says the majority of people seeking medical care for COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated as concern about variants continues.

"They need to understand that variants form because of unvaccinated people. The more people vaccinated, the less chance the virus has to mutate," Dr. Maloney said.

Dr. Maloney says Marilyn's story illustrates how fortunate we are to have vaccine technology. Now comes the hope that people will appreciate it like she does and get both doses.

"The difference between the first and second doses, people are saying, 'I don't need that second dose if I have the first.' But if you can go from 80 percent effective to 94 percent effective by getting the second dose, what that means is your chances go from 1 in 5 that you can still get it after the first dose to 1 in 17 after the second dose," Dr. Maloney explained.

All Pennsylvanians age 12 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.