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Recently, a young friend told me that she won't get the COVID-19 vaccine. She is intelligent and educated, has a young family, but no, she doesn't trust the vaccine nor the government. She's read up on it and checked out the media. It undermines the immune system and it could affect her DNA and she wants to have another baby. In fact, she has doubts about having her children take any shots.

I'm aghast. She obviously has no knowledge of life before vaccines. 

We couldn't go to school without being vaccinated against smallpox. I learned why many years ago when I lived in Pakistan. I witnessed a smallpox outbreak. The victims were "thrice cursed;" they were lepers, refugees from India, living in the most appalling conditions when smallpox struck. Victims stretched out on mats, feverish, with blistered sores oozing pus. I can't forget that terrible scene. Two Dutch nuns brought what little help they could. Since then, the World Health Organization has conducted a global vaccination campaign that has wiped out smallpox.  

Without that vaccine, we'd have smallpox epidemics today. 

Growing up before many vaccines were available, I came down with diseases my young friend no longer has to fear. As a baby I nearly died when the family came down with whooping cough. There's now a vaccine. I had chickenpox when I was ten, but today children are protected. My freshman year in college just before exams, I came down with measles and spent two weeks in the college infirmary. Later I had german measles, now called rubella. The MMR vaccine now protects against measles, mumps and rubella.  

A mother's greatest fear in summers past was the annual polio epidemic. Should she let her children go to the pool, or to Johnny's birthday party, or to the movie theater? How to protect the children? It hit our  family hard when my oldest brother came down with polio. He survived two months in an iron lung and spent more than a year in the hospital. I remember him coming home on crutches — the big brother who took me skating and played varsity hockey and lacrosse. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. A worldwide campaign has almost succeeded in eliminating polio. It only persists in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reject polio vaccine? Inconceivable. 

When traveling I had to carry an international "shot card" that listed vaccinations and inoculations. In addition to the shots already mentioned, my card included tetanus, yellow fever, typhoid and cholera. Typhoid vaccine in those days was only partially effective and I came down with a mild case. Without the vaccine, it would have been far more serious. 

I've been protected with those shots. With the covid shot, I'm also protecting the people around me. To refuse the vaccine, I find incomprehensible. It's as if you allowed a fire in your own house to spread through your neighborhood — all because you refused to use a fire extinguisher.

I'm grateful for the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, I'm grateful for the many vaccines  that I've received.

Jane Coon

The writer lives in Woodville


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