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“One of the interesting takeaways from both the Antonine plague and polio is what a difference a strong leader can make during an epidemic. Marcus Aurelius’s swift response to the Antonine plague—and his attempt to help cover expenses for the general populace and rebuild the parts of the army decimated by the disease—staved off the fall of the Roman Empire, at least temporarily. When FDR took up polio as a cause, America followed his lead and went to work eradicating it. Although his role may not have been as significant, Eisenhower is also to be commended for trying to ensure that cost did not prohibit any child from receiving the polio vaccine, and that the vaccine was shared with the world. Those men each acknowledged the seriousness of their crises and went about bravely confronting the disease in their midst head-on. They did not ignore it or glamorize it or shame people for having it, because that never works. That strategy just gives diseases more time to multiply and kill people. Diseases are delighted when you refuse to take them seriously.”

Jennifer Wright
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