Most memories get murky and fade over time. Others are seared into our consciousness and last forever. For my mother, that happened from witnessing her brothers and sisters dying when she was a child.

Mom was born in 1911, the second of eight children. Only three survived to adulthood; the rest all died of what are now vaccine-preventable diseases. Her older brother, Malcolm, died when he was 8 from polio. Andrew died from meningitis. Inez from diphtheria. May succumbed to measles. Margaret was taken by pneumonia.

Thankfully, most Americans live in an environment where we assume that our babies will not be ripped from us by “childhood diseases.” Those of us born post-World War II have grown up during the age of vaccines, which essentially eliminated these scourges.

I have clear memories of kids in my neighborhood during the 1950s being killed and crippled by polio. When I was in medical school and residency, I did lots of spinal taps on sick children searching for meningitis. Then a vaccine for Hemophilus influenza bacterial infections became available, and meningitis and pneumonia from this deadly germ essentially disappeared.

I fear that our society has grown so secure from the miraculous success of childhood immunizations that we forget how common childhood death and permanent disability was, and still is in many parts of the world. We mustn’t be so complacent that we allow ourselves to relive the horror that my mother and her parents went through.

Vote “No” on Question 1.

Harry Grimmnitz, M.D.


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