I like vaccines. I’ve always been a big fan, ever since I read the story of Dr. Edward Jenner in the children’s encyclopedia we kept in the family room. I thought he was so smart, and the little boy who received the very first smallpox inoculation, James Phipps, was so brave. (Technically the history of inoculation and vaccination is more complex and detailed, but I was 7.) And that success grew into what I believe to be the most significant scientific development in the history of humankind (after the taming of fire and the invention of the wheel, I guess) – the ability to train our own immune systems to fight off disease without actually suffering from the disease.

If you look closely above my left eyebrow, you will see what can only be described as a pockmark. It’s a scar from my childhood run-in with the chickenpox. The residual chickenpox virus in my body led to a bout of shingles in the fall, from which I am still experiencing residual nerve pain. Both of these illnesses are now preventable with vaccines. I understand good-faith uncertainty and confusion about inoculation. But vicious, ideological opposition to vaccines, driven by folks looking to make a quick buck by selling quack cures or poorly written books, well, that I will not tolerate.

On Monday, I received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. I am scheduled to receive my second in three weeks. The reason I received it is that in November, I started a new job, working in a medical facility. Technically my job title is “customer service,” but what I really am is a COVID screener. I sit by the entrance and I make sure everyone who comes through the doors puts on a fresh mask, takes a pump of hand sanitizer and passes my screening questions about symptoms and possible exposure. I actually really like the job – all my co-workers are awesome, life-saving health care professionals, and I enjoy getting to chat with all the different folks who come in. But the gig puts me in contact with a lot of people, so I jumped at the chance to get vaccinated through my employer, even though it meant getting up at 6 a.m. on a Monday.

MaineHealth ran the vaccination clinic and I have to give them a round of applause, because everything went like clockwork. The military could learn lessons from their efficiency and organization.

The actual shot was anticlimactic, considering everything the country has gone through to get to this point. It didn’t even hurt. And trust me, I would tell you if it did. But it was less painful than the flu shot. Then they observed me in the waiting room for 15 minutes in case I had an allergic reaction, but I didn’t, because I’ve never been allergic to anything except my ex-girlfriend’s cat. (Not all cats. Just that one cat.) My upper left arm was sore for a day after the inoculation, but that’s pretty standard for me; it just means I have to switch my Purse Arm and my Coffee Arm when I’m walking in to work. If you get the chance to take the vaccine, I hope you do. It was a good way to start the new year; certainly it was better than getting my car stuck in my own drainage ditch, which is what happened to me on New Year’s Day. Thank goodness for JD’s Auto in Buxton.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Balto.” It’s based on the true story of sled dogs relaying antitoxin serum to Nome, Alaska, during a diphtheria outbreak in the winter of 1925. It’s a good movie, especially if you are a crazy dog lady like myself.

But in real life, the dogs didn’t arrive in Nome in time to save everyone. Several children died horrible deaths from the disease known as “the Strangler,” which cuts off the airway and makes it impossible to breathe. The similarities to COVID-19 are not lost on me. But we have a vaccine for diphtheria now, and antibiotics.

I don’t know if any dogs were involved in the making and delivery of the coronavirus vaccines. I do know that all the humans involved in its creation and distribution are heroes of the highest order. But just like that winter 96 years ago, which has all but passed from living memory, it has not arrived in time to save everyone. As of this writing, Maine’s loss stands at 369 souls.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial

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