Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 5, 2021
"A little jab'll do ya!"
"I'm really proud of you!" Art told me recently.
We've been married for more than 30 years, but I'll accept any compliment I can get!
What he was referring to was my response to the pandemic. I'm a person who functions well with a "to-do" list to guide me through each day, and things not on that list tend to be handled by habit. So Art was worried that my initial vow of staying safe would quickly give way to visiting our kids or shopping trips to Target.
But that hasn't happened. I credit what should have been a routine encounter with a virus in December 1996 with teaching me an unforgettable lesson. That experience led to a nearly-three-month hospital stay, during much of which I was almost totally paralyzed. Months of physical, occupational and speech therapy eventually brought me back to a new version of normal. Intubation and breathing on a ventilator for weeks are not experiences I wish to repeat. It wasn't COVID-19, but it triggered an over-the-top immune system response in me similar in some ways to those in people who have succumbed to this recent virus.
So when Art ordered take-out while we were in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, my first reaction was, "That’s risky." It really wasn't since it was a "contactless" delivery, but while eating, I had a vague feeling I had just committed some transgression. About a week later on our way back to Kansas, Art arranged one of our needed "pit stops" to be at a Culver's restaurant. We used the restrooms, picked up some ButterBurgers, and slid back into our still-warm car seats. The burgers were to die for, although I felt we had just robbed a bank!
In a related incident, our English friend Jan mentioned her son-in-law Steve would be celebrating his 50th the next day. So Art and I produced a short "Happy Birthday" video and sent it off as a surprise. A bit later, he sent a picture of the cake Jan had made. Art remarked he wished he could have a piece, but Steve said not with the pandemic. Art told him he had just had his first COVID-19 shot - or "jab", as the Brits say - and I had my second one.
"What kind?" Steve asked. "We had the Pfizer."
"Moderna," Art responded.
Steve's son Sam then asked, "Is that an American beer?"
Art replied, "I'll have a pint of Moderna please. That should keep me safe until, oh, 2050."
All kidding aside, we're glad the vaccination process has gone smoothly in Riley County. There were a few "hiccups" early on, but that was resolved when the county health department moved the inoculation site to the main building of the county fairgrounds. I was impressed with the efficiency and courtesy of everyone there, including the people guiding us to parking spots, administrators keeping track of consent and health forms, nurses administering the shots, and volunteers taking care of all the rest.
When Art got his shot, he told the nurse the last time he remembered such a mass vaccination event was in 1957, when he was 13 and polio was still a dreaded disease. His aunt Arline contracted it - then called infantile paralysis - in 1916, when she was just 4. It left her with a slight limp. Despite being pretty and skilled as a seamstress and hair dresser, that affliction materially damaged her opinion of herself throughout her life. Art's aunt Dorothy, who was quite an athlete in high school, was stricken at age 19 in 1919, and was wheelchair-bound the remainder of her 75 years.
While there are vaccine skeptics, I'm not one of them. The assertion that the MMR - Mumps Measles Rubella - vaccine caused autism, based upon discredited research in Britain, lives on in the recesses of the internet and with conspiracy fans. But mountains of data show that vaccinations have long helped mitigate the spread of many diseases. According to historyofvaccines.org, evidence exists that the Chinese used smallpox inoculation (then called “variolation”) 1,000 years go. It was also used in Africa and Turkey and eventually, Europe. In 1796, Edward Jenner used cowpox material to create immunity to smallpox. His method underwent technological and medical changes over 200 years and eventually resulted in the eradication of smallpox in the 20th century. Louis Pasteur’s 1885 rabies vaccine was another that had a great impact.
Antitoxins and vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, and more were developed through the 1930s. Vaccine research in the middle of the 20th century produced methods for growing viruses in the laboratory, which led to rapid discoveries, including a poliomyelitis vaccine by Jonas Salk that precipitated Art's jab as a youngster. Albert Sabin's oral vaccine in the 1960s replaced Salk's. The MMR vaccine was licensed in 1971. The shots I had for typhoid fever, cholera, and yellow fever protected me during my years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and working on a newspaper in Costa Rica.
More recently, influenza, shingles, human papilloma, pneumonia and Ebola vaccines have been added to the list of those that lessen the impact of those diseases. What scientists learned from engineering these latter drugs - the Ebola vaccine in particular - laid the groundwork for facilitating the quick creation of the Covid-19 vaccines.
So I'm an advocate for getting the jab and am pleased Art and I are among the 50 million Americans who have been vaccinated since the beginning of 2021. We'll also remain cautious and wear masks and do social-distancing until the vaccine has this virus whipped.
Those folks “of a certain age” might remember the jingle for Brylcreem hair cream - "a little dab’ll do ya!" I think I'm going for a new slogan: "A little jab'll do ya!"
Left: In April 1957, Protection, Kansas in the southwestern corner of the state, became the first city in the nation to be fully vaccinated against the polio virus. Right: After receiving the Moderna vaccine, we were required to remain for 15 minutes to see if we had any significant adverse reaction. Picture at the left from the March of Dimes, an organization initially formed to find a vaccine for polio.