Vaccines--then and now
I got my COVID vaccine on April Fool’s Day (no fooling!). I’d registered on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) web page a couple of weeks earlier and waited for an email that I assumed would tell me when and where to go. The first email showed up about a week later, but by the time I saw it, all the shot slots were taken. Oh well—I figured it would happen eventually.
On March 30th, another email arrived, and I saw it about an hour later. The nearby Civic Center was hosting a large COVID vaccine clinic in two days and they were offering the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) which was my vaccine of choice (at least it was two weeks ago). I clicked on the 9:20 a.m. appointment, answered a few questions, and printed the appointment confirmation sheet.
On Thursday, I got there a little early, showed my photo ID twice, joined a continuously moving line, got stabbed, and moved to the waiting area to sit for a while. I was in and out in under thirty minutes. The next day, my arm was a little sore, but beyond that, I had no side effects.
As most of you probably know, this current pandemic is not the first our world has experienced. One that really stands out is the so-called Black Death that ravaged Europe, Africa, and Asia between 1346 and 1353. It was caused by the Bubonic Plague and killed as many as two hundred million people. Incredible.
The Spanish influenza pandemic, which struck between February 1918 and April 1920, was also relentless. One victim was my great grandfather (my mom’s dad’s dad—that's him, the only photo I have of Lars Peter). Suspected cases world-wide were estimated at five hundred million, with the death count falling somewhere between twenty and fifty million. During World War I, more than half of the 116,516 U.S. military deaths were caused by the Spanish flu. In just about all wars before World War II, more military personnel died from disease than from battle injuries.
As the United States’ involvement in World War II became inevitable, an enormous amount of time and treasure was expended on research and mass production of new vaccines. Attention was also given to the improvement of existing vaccines. In 1941, the U.S. Army organized a commission to develop the first flu vaccine, and the FDA gave its approval in less than two years. Other immunizations available during the Second World War included smallpox, tetanus, typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and typhus.
Yellow fever (spread by infected mosquitos) was considered a potential biological weapon during World War II, so they ramped up the production and distribution of that vaccine, and by the spring of 1942, seven million doses had been administered to U.S. Armed Forces personnel. Some troops in California training camps came down with hepatitis soon after receiving the vaccine. Health authorities halted distribution until the contaminated batches were identified and pulled. Looking for answers, scientists identified a previously unrecognized virus that caused hepatitis. In their research, they also discovered the difference between “infectious” hepatitis A and “serum” hepatitis B.
Three weeks after our wedding in August 1973, Joe hopped on a bus and headed to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for Army basic training. About two weeks in, he received a second round of vaccines that included shots for typhoid and the plague. (Check out the list to the left.) A few days later he was sick as a dog and was thrown in the hospital (not literally). While at the hospital, he was thrown into a cold shower (literally, sort of) to help bring down his fever. He stayed there for four or five days (in the hospital, not the shower) and was concerned he’d be recycled (meaning, essentially, he’d have to start all over with his training—an alarming possibility for us newlyweds as I’m sure you can imagine). But, in the end, he wasn’t recycled, and (shhh . . . don’t tell anyone) was even given an “expert” rating on hand grenade throwing/tossing even though he was in the hospital when all that throwing/tossing was happening out in the field.
Joe has registered for the COVID vaccine on the VDH website and is awaiting that inevitable email. (And I'll get the cold shower ready, just in case.)
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.