Rarely do I get on my soapbox (or soapbench) for this blog, preferring to talk about books and topics I find interesting, but I am making an exception for this one. In the spirit of the latest fad on Facebook that starts with, “I am old as . . .” and fills in the blank with what one remembers, I will begin with mine. “I am old as measles creating terror as it raged through communities.”
The first three of the McGee girls generously shared with each other any contagious diseases that made the rounds. Chicken pox, the common cold, or flu were but temporary detours in our lives, although Gwyn often made them look grimmer than Beth or I did. With the age gap before Ruth, she usually got her shares from classmates. Mumps, not as contagious as other childhood diseases, did not invade our family until I was away working my first college summer job, leaving me to have them as an adult – another story altogether and not relevant to this rant.
Measles, as you have heard unless you have been lost on a remote island with no access to news, remains among the most contagious diseases before, during, and after the obvious symptoms. It may leave permanent damage or even cause death. Beth and I spent a dismal week with the normal misery of the disease. Gwyn, continuing her one-upmanship, spent a week in a dark room while even Mama fretted over whether her eyes would be affected. Though she would not have scared us with the thought, I am sure Mama feared for Gwyn’s life as well. It was quite some time after the spots were gone before we were quite comfortable that Gwyn would come through unscathed.
It has been unimaginable to me that people would risk the aftereffects of the disease or death for false rumors of the danger of vaccines. I give a shout out to Mississippi, which often gets a bad rap for many things. Our state has among the strictest requirements for having children’s vaccines up-to-date before they go to school, resulting in no reported cases of the disease. Even an out-of-state tourist with measles who made his way through Mississippi resulted in no new episodes as health officials tracked his path for the next month.
It boggles my mind that one would not prevent these diseases for their own children and by extension for children and adults with factors that make it dangerous for them to get the shots as well as to have the diseases. I will leave my soapbox with the gratitude I felt as I filled my children’s shot records with especial thankfulness for the Salk and Sabin vaccines that abolished the panic-causing polio of my childhood.