Tomorrow is the annual medical check-up. Not a problem. But we are both getting our Shingrix vaccinations.
For Jon, vaccination is a non-issue. He breezes through such things and cannot understand why I don’t. Take for example the Lymerix vaccinations of yesteryear. We were keen to take them so we could reduce our usual hyper-vigilance when out of doors. Jon carried on with life as usual. I found myself with one Popeye arm and a high fever with aches everywhere; the next three days remain a blur. Lymerix was withdrawn from the market a few years later. (I really really hate being the canary in the coal mine.)
So I should have known. The first time I had ever taken the flu shot (it was on a Friday), that evening I distinguished myself at a small dinner party by putting my face down into Helen’s wonderful boeuf bourguignon and having a little nap. I still have annual flu shots but not before stopping by the library and stocking up on reading material. Some years go better than others.
BUT, while every vaccine is, for me, a tiny game of Russian Roulette, I would not consider avoiding them. Vaccines have changed the world. My mother’s brother died of diphtheria. Although my father was a polio victim at 18 and paralyzed from the waist down, even so he was luckier than Uncle Stan; because Dad had been a young athlete, he succeeded in calling on his secondary muscle groups and taught himself to walk again, albeit with a limp. He even golfed into his 70’s, until post-polio syndrome started to rear its ugly head.
Few victims of “infantile paralysis,” which polio was called at the time, got off that easily. Even forty years later than my father's challenge, we had a polio epidemic in our city. Mary, my own pediatrician’s wee daughter, died. Our minister’s son ended up in a wheelchair, and a friend’s father died, while another's was able to continue working as a lawyer but only if he slept in an iron lung. Polio was an invisible terror: I still freeze at the thought of having to use a public drinking fountain.
That highly contagious diseases such as polio had been almost eradicated over the last century is a tribute to the brilliant and dedicated work of medical professionals. Skipping vaccination to avoid individual risk and relying on “herd immunity” - the protection afforded by "universal" vaccination - is the very thing which weakens the herd and renders it susceptible. At the moment, we are seeing this play out with measles, a disease which was thought to have been eradicated.
Melanie, who is my dear cousin’s daughter, is now a police officer; a century ago she might not have survived to adulthood. Luckily, she both could and did receive inoculations and we all benefit.
Let’s hear it for a healthy herd!