Polio to COVID

Alexis Barker

Photo courtesy of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Patricia Guilfoyle Iams was the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine trial at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Iams remembers receiving the polio vaccine while attending Newcastle Elementary School in 1955, and said that those memories helped fuel her desire to test the new vaccine. 


Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor


Former Newcastle resident Patricia Guilfoyle Iams, now 73 and living in Columbus, Ohio, remembers vividly receiving her polio vaccine while attending elementary school in Newcastle in 1955. 

“I remember so clearly how anxious we all were to take the Salk vaccine, to combat polio. We all lined up right at school, no questions asked. We all had known victims of polio, and we were glad to get a vaccine,” Iams recalled. “A few years later, we lined up again to receive the Sabin vaccine, a red liquid on a sugar cube. While polio raged at the time, it is nonexistent in the U.S. today, as far as I know.” 

Her polio vaccine memory, her experiences working as a public health nurse and the death facing people across the globe due to COVID-19 drove the retired nurse to join a coronavirus vaccine trial. 

“I didn’t know this at the time, but I was the first person to participate in the vaccine trial,” Iams said, noting that she had received her first injection of either the vaccine or the placebo on Nov. 10 at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

She explained that she will return to receive the second dose on Nov. 17 and will continue to be monitored for the next two years. Iams said that she is one of some 30,000 people that will test the vaccine, called AZD1222. 

The coronavirus vaccine was developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca, according to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, in partnership with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It is also part of Operation Warp Speed, a United States’ operation that has pumped billions of dollars into COVID-19 research. 

Driving the longtime volunteer to sign up for the trial also came out of the need to do something productive during this health crisis facing the world, she said. 

“It has to do with my experience as a child and as a public health nurse. I actually saw the things that can happen from diseases like polio, chicken pox and the measles,” she said. “It also feels productive. The things I usually do to volunteer I can’t right now, and I have been frustrated. This gives me the opportunity to do something.” 

She added that although side effects from the vaccine are possible, she has not experienced any yet and would hope that the studies give people more ease when the vaccines become available. 

Vaccine history, Iams said, shows that there have been cases in which vaccines have caused deaths. She specifically mentioned a polio vaccine situation that left 10 children dead after a lab made a mistake. 

“That is horrible, a tragedy, but that is exactly why I am doing the trial, to try and make sure the vaccine is safe for people and that it works,” Iams said. “So that others don’t have a mistake and people don’t die.” 

“I really hope that the trial goes well. I just really hope people would want to protect not only themselves but others. I hope this vaccine, and others, are affective and we can vaccinate instead of masks and social distancing,” Iams said. 

Masks and social distancing are a small thing to do for the greater good, in her opinion, she said. 

“People are dying every day from this disease, terrible deaths. It is not only one person affected, but their families are also grieving. At this point, all we know is we can try to social distance and wear masks. It seems like a small thing, but I know it has become very political,” Iams said.

The stigma around masks and the public health orders in Newcastle and surrounding areas is what led Iams to reach out to the News Letter Journal, she explained. 

“I was up there this last summer actually, and a lot of people were not wearing masks at that point. There was a point of pride in not wearing a mask, and I don’t know if it is better now,” Iams said. “I would hope it (my story) might be a way to encourage residents of Weston County to use safe practices with regard to COVID-19 and to view the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine as positive.” 

Iams added that while she moved from Newcastle when she was young, her father, Dr. Ed Guilfoyle, a graduate of Newcastle High School, was instrumental in early health care in the community and she holds the area close to her heart. 

“He (Dr. Ed Guilfoyle) had learned that Dr. Horton had died, and he was urged by friends to return to Newcastle. In March of 1947, he did. He saw patients in an office in our home, made home and ranch calls, and recruited Dr. Virgil Thorpe, Dr. Willis Franz and Dr. Henry Stephenson to a new clinic they built together,” Iams recalled. 

Her family, she said, remained in the community until 1959 when they relocated to Denver so her father could pursue further training. Iams grew up and followed in her father’s health provider footsteps. 

“I grew up to be a public health nurse, where I visited homes to oversee health needs and to encourage people to keep immunizations up to date,” Iams said. “Since then, we have seen a reduction in rubella, measles, mumps and chicken pox — all of which had possible debilitating side effects — because of vaccines.” 

Her life, she said, has come full circle, vaccine to vaccine, and she hopes that COVID-19 will also become a disease of the past.

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