A Shot In The Arm
Over the last couple of months we have witnessed in the news, countless images of people receiving their vaccinations. Most every story is accompanied by a visual image of a needle penetrating someone’s arm. For those who have a fear of needles, this image must be particularly un-nerving. Never the less, these very public vaccinations will hopefully prevent the spread of the Covid-19 infection.
History tells us that the benefits of vaccinations has existed for over two-hundred years. A British doctor named, Edward Jenner is given credit for understanding the possibility of the procedure preventing illness. Jenner realized that a dairymaid, who was infected with cowpox, and then exposed to deadly small pox did not contract the disease. Cowpox is a mild illness and primarily affects the hands with blisters. Wanting to know if his theory was correct, he exposed a young boy to cowpox to discover if similar results would be found. The boy remained healthy after a smallpox exposure. That discovery led to the first preventive immunization process we still have today.
Jenner realized that diseases in animals must have the ability to infect mankind. The problem with infections found in nature is the fact, they are always changing. That change is why they can infect other species, including man. The 1918 Spanish Flu which originated in farm animals quickly ravaged the world for several years. How did it end with no modern vaccines to stop the pandemic? As the world population was infected, resistance to the flu was possible by herd immunity. Also, the flu continued to evolve over time. By the early 1920s, the deadly strain came to an end with its mutation and herd immunity slowing its growth. But, still today, genetic elements of the Spanish flu are still around. Those genetic elements along with several other strains are used to build the immunization agents administered each year. Vaccine manufacturers formulate the annual vaccine based on scientific evidence. They predict what strains will be prevalent in the coming flu season. It is very likely Covid-19 will be included in future vaccine formulations.
Most of us carry with us the visible sign from our first vaccination. If you were to inspect most individual’s upper arm, you will find a circular scar. When we were very young we were given polio vaccinations. That vaccine required four injections over a period of time to be effective. The scar you have on your arm is not the result of the vaccine, but your body’s reaction to it.
Back in 1969 when I was in basic training in San Antonio, Texas, I was given vaccinations to protect my health. Our group was marched to a plain wooden building where we formed a single line. Once inside, I realized we were being herded into a room with rails that reminded me of a stock yard. The purpose was to prepare us for the immunization line. On each side were hand rails to keep us in single file. Standing outside the hand rails were medical technicians, each with an automatic hypodermic device used to inject us with vaccines. As you stepped onto an X on the floor, you heard a quick release of air and then a sudden sharp pain in one arm. Before you could say ouch, you were injected in the other arm. This process was repeated two more times. Stories circulated about some guy who moved as he was being injected and the pressurized device cut his arm off. I looked around and saw no arms lying about.
My next exposure to a vaccination was in 1976, when Mary and I lined up to receive our swine flu vaccination. We were among several hundred waiting for the vaccination. There were no guiderails to keep us in line, but still I felt like we were being herded towards our fate. Do I believe those vaccinations over my life time have been to my benefit? I believe they have.
Each year in early fall, Mary and I roll up our sleeves for our annual flu vaccinations. We have also taken our pneumonia vaccinations. We figure a slight pain in the arm, is much better than suffering with the flu, or even worse, pneumonia.
Two weeks ago, I went onto the state registration site and submitted our names to be put on the list to receive our Covid-19 inoculations. Then last week, we were contacted and told it was our turn that Friday. Mary and I along with my mom were now scheduled for our vaccinations at the Wetzel Tyler Health Department in Paden City. Now, I will have to be honest, there was a time last fall I was not so sure I was going to take the shot. I am not sure why. I knew better, maybe I thought I would wait and Covid-19 would go away on its own. Then I was given a dose of reality.
The week before Thanksgiving, on a Thursday evening I came into the kitchen. Mary had a strange look on her face. “I have lost my sense of taste and smell” she announced to me. With all our precautions of wiping everything down with wipes, wearing masks when we went out and handwashing and also using hand sanitizer, Mary was infected. Two days later, I joined her in losing my ability to smell and taste. Test revealed, we were positive with Covid-19. Those numbers we saw nightly on the news now included us. Thankfully we were among those whose symptoms were mild. Still, we knew that could have not been the case. Seeing and hearing the hard reality of Covid on the thousands of people brought on a sobering fact. The pandemic was real and now was in our home.
The process at the health department was not like any previous mass vaccinations I have experienced. It was well organized and the people were very warm and understanding of their mission during this pandemic. As I watched, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends, along with those I did not know received their vaccinations. A great deal of the success for this inoculation process has to go to the kind and gentle volunteers who help their fellow citizens through this difficult time. The health department staff and the county EMS agencies have worked tirelessly to make this process work smoothly.
The history of this pandemic will not be completed for some time. But when it is, I hope it will give credit to those individuals who with peril to themselves were there to help others. Medical workers, fires services, law enforcement, teachers, service personnel and all those who went to work every day so others could stay safe. In times such as these, I can see the good things we each have inside. Stay safe and healthy and I hope you choose to get your vaccination as we look forward to a bright future Through the Lens.