Richard’s Almanac: Talkin’ shots

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I remember growing up when there were fewer vaccines given to kids. But we always had a large “vaccination mark” on our upper arms. The shot was for smallpox and diphtheria — diseases that have just about disappeared in this country.

One time I asked my father what diphtheria was and he replied that “when I was a kid, if someone came down with diphtheria the family would order a coffin.” It was that deadly, he remembered. 

Those of us of a certain age I am sure will remember being in school in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s when each year some classmate would be stricken with polio. The whole class would have to get a gamma globulin shot to make everyone less apt to contract this disease that society did not know how to prevent.

I believe that the “March of Dimes” was started to raise funds for polio prevention research. And there were many theories about where it came from. Some kids contracted it after going to camp, some got it after swimming somewhere and some just happened to get the disease without anything different in their lives.

Then Dr. Jonas Salk came up with the vaccine. I remember lining up in elementary school to get the polio shot. Then Dr. Sabin devised an oral polio vaccine. I know there were some problems in the initial stages of inoculations but now polio is pretty much gone. I hope gone the way of diphtheria and smallpox.

Coming from this background, I am trying my best to understand the reasoning behind the “anti-vaxxers” as the press is calling the folks who do not want to get their kids their shots. In this state they are now forbidden from going to school. I am not sure that being banned from school is the best way to go. In the meantime many students in this state are not in school.

Sure, they can get home schooled but that’s not the same. Part of the benefit of going to school is the socialization process that kids need.

And I still do not understand how a non-vaccinated kid is a threat to others who are vaccinated. When I was young I took the subway to school for a while. And being smaller than most of the riders, I was coughed on, sneezed on and at times dribbled on. I remember expressing concern to my mother who responded that I was “getting inoculated against everything” by my exposure on the train.

Do I believe in vaccinations? I grew up and did not get diphtheria, smallpox or polio. I did get the measles before there was a shot for it. And I came down with the mumps pre-vaccine. I am allergic to tetanus anti-toxin so I cannot get that shot. And I am certainly glad that I grew up in the era of penicillin. Many diseases were cured with it. Although some people are allergic to it.

If one looks at the figures from the last vaccination program at the Senior Center, 92 individuals were given shots for flu, pneumonia and shingles. That tells me that many Islanders would rather be safe than sorry. Seniors who do not get these shots are still allowed to participate in all the Center’s activities.

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