Chicken pox, scars, and vaccines
Right above my nose, evenly spaced between my eyes, is a familiar sight, my very own chicken pox scar.
Trust me that I acquired it in the typical way, by doing exactly what my mother told me not to do. I scratched, and the results of that scratch are with me forever. I don’t give it much notice these days, more than 70 years from its debut, but Mom wasn’t happy to see it when it first marred my obviously perfect face.
She usually was right when it came to health issues. I remember one rainy night when I was 12, and our youth group was having a meeting at the Y to discuss an upcoming overnight trip. I really wanted to be at that meeting, but I would have had to walk there, in the stormy weather. Mom told me not to go to the meeting, that I would get pneumonia and miss the actual trip. Nonetheless, I stormed more than the weather, and eventually I did go to the meeting. And I did get pneumonia, and I miserably missed the trip.
I’ll say one thing about my mother, she never went through the whole “I told you so” routine, but I was pretty unhappy.
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The miseries of chicken pox, unknown to today’s parents who vaccinate their kids and never think about residual scars on their faces, came to just about every child. It was still prevalent in 1973, when our own four kids were making new friends in Mevaseret Tzion, a Jerusalem suburb. Naturally, they couldn’t do chicken pox easily. Four kids, four separate bouts of chicken pox, each time wondering if Abba, their father and my husband, would finally come down with it, since he maintained he had never had it as a child. To spare you the angst, I’ll tell you up front that he didn’t catch it. And fortunately for the next generation, the vaccine arrived before any of our grandchildren were born.
Chicken pox was an innocuous disease for most people, not like some of the other sicknesses that we reliably came down with, but the vaccine has worked its miracles, and today’s kids don’t have to worry about scars or 10 days of confinement. Not to mention the oatmeal baths, to combat the ferocious itching.
It absolutely boggles my mind to hear these days about antivax families. I wonder if these people are using the health of their kids to fight political battles. There’s this crazy, truly insane, correlation between your chosen candidates for election and your kids’ vaccines. Is there something un-American about protecting your children’s health and electing, say, a president, or a governor of, maybe, Florida? Are you kidding me?
Are you thinking conspiracy, that vaccines are out to do you harm? Can people really believe that the government is taking away your rights, your freedom, when you need to show proof of vaccination before your kids go to school? Would you prefer your kids get polio to a shot in the tush? Or arm?
Whooping cough, known as pertussis, was a bad one. It came to us one summer in Parksville, when Mom had one room left to rent at the Bauman House. She should have been suspicious when the prospective tenant told her that all four of her kids had allergies, and they probably would cough all summer. Mom was always honest, so she believed lies that people told her, including those of the new tenant.
That cost Mom big time.
Half of us kids came down with whooping cough and the unaffected families were refunded their money and sadly sent back to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Newark. I don’t remember being very sick, but both my sister and I whooped through that summer. Kids today don’t get whooping cough anymore. Thanks to vaccines!
Naturally, when I was a kid in the 1940s and ’50s the kids’ big scourge, especially in the summer, was polio. Even the president, FDR, had been crippled by polio. All the moms were somewhat hysterical, living in fear of the dreaded disease, also known as infantile paralysis. They all believed that August was the worst month for contagion, and that swimming was highly suspect for disease transmission.
Thus, with the typical arrival of Tisha B’Av, paired with the disease, our trips to the Parksville Falls were very limited in August. Nonetheless, a phone call one summer evening to LIBERTY726J scared the wits out of our parents. When that phone rang on its lonely perch in a dank, dark Bauman House hallway, it was almost always bad, bad news.
This call was to be no exception. My cousin Bobby in Newark, who had polished my nails the day before when he visited Parksville, was just diagnosed with polio. Not to be overly dramatic, Bobby recovered without incident, and I never got it at all, nor did any of our cohort in Parksville. Our little friend Marjorie, who lived in the same Aldine Street house as Bobby, was not so lucky. She had a much darker and very different story.
Ultimately two Jews, one named Sabin and one named Salk, finally dispensed with polio by inventing vaccines, which I remember eagerly lining up for, and then never having to worry about polio again. No sane person would have predicted then that vaccination itself could be the enemy.
It strikes me as very strange that, today, there are parents who regard vaccines as suspect. Our parents never ever discussed refusing a vaccine. We ourselves, with our own precious children, didn’t insist on reading the studies and learning about the inoculation’s side effects. To the contrary, we stood in line and considered ourselves lucky that we would avoid terrible diseases.
Our own parents had been vaxxed against smallpox, which was eradicated from the United States. It never occurred to any of our elders to question whether something that was safe and protective might cause them harm.
So when vaccines were developed for measles, mumps, German measles, as well as for chicken pox, whooping cough, and polio, our parents never hesitated. We were protected as soon as humanly possible. And, incidentally, all the local school systems required certificates of vaccination.
Most of us have had the same trusting attitude toward vaccines against Covid-19. My husband and I have lined up for these shots in Livingston, and in beautiful Abu Tor in Jerusalem, as well as in Petach Tikvah. We never missed an opportunity for quick first dibs, and have had five to date. We have faith and trust that no one is out to get us, that the simple quick injection may one day save our lives. Any other feeling is merely paranoia. We eagerly await either the end to the scourge or yet another round of vaccinations. We know that no vaccine is guaranteed to be effective and without complications. Life offers few guarantees. We’ll take our chances.
Medical science hasn’t cured or made us immune to many diseases. Cancer and heart disease remain to be conquered, along with diabetes and numerous other life-threatening conditions. We are, however, quite lucky that so many of the diseases that we remember from childhood have yielded to good research and vaccine development. Let’s protect our children, and ourselves, by not succumbing to conspiracy theorists and their absurdity.
Next they may tell us to ban books!
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!