A Personal Observation on Vaccinations

(Plus an amusing video).

Vaccine Vial And NeedleAll this vaccination talk of the last week or so has me thinking about my own childhood, and those of my children, on the topic of many of the diseases in the news.  I was born in the late 1960s and was in elementary school in the mid-to-late 1970s and therefore remember rather specifically the reality of many of these illnesses.  Specifically I myself had chickenpox and mumps, and I was aware of acquaintances who had the measles and whooping cough.  From our point of view at the time all these were real threats and my contemporaries and I would trade tales of which diseases we had had and which we had avoided.  The only things we did not discuss were polio and smallpox, as we were certain of their demise.  (Although, to take the generational story back by one, my mother-in-law contracted polio as a child, but luckily escaped long-term consequences).

To my children (ages 13-18) this is all ancient history.  While there may still be the stray case of chickenpox, the truth is it more legend than reality to them.  They had never even heard of the mumps until I brought it up in passing (likewise whooping cough–they may have heard of measles, but I am not sure).

I really have nothing profound to say on this topic, save that a) it is truly astounding what science has been able to do on this topic in the last half-century or so, and b) it is tragic that any significant number of persons have opted out of this true miracle out of irrational fears.

I will add one thing:  I have a child on the autism spectrum, and that is far better (infinitely better) than losing a child to a preventable disease (so, even if we stipulate the indefensible position that there is a link between autism and vaccinations, it is an asinine reason to not vaccinate one’s children).  On that count, I give you Penn and Teller (please note the language is NSFW, but utterly warranted IMHO):

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Well I have you beat by several years, born in 1946. I had Measles, mumps and chicken pox and as a result of the latter have been plagued with several bouts of shingles. I also remember polio, A friend of mines father sold iron lungs. Both of my children, now in there 40s, also were pre vaccine and also had measles and chicken pox. The younger people don’t remember those days so it’s easy for them to ignore the bad old days.

  2. @Ron Beasley: I do believe that that is part of the problem.

  3. Slugger says:

    I am even older than Mr. Beasley. The winter of 1969 was cold in the Midwest; in those days temperatures of 15 degrees and snowfalls of 6-8 inches were common. There was an underground tunnel between two parts of campus that I almost always eschewed to get some fresh air even of winter days. One day it was bad enough to force me into the tunnel. In the tunnel I saw a doorway branching off, and I let my curiosity try the door. Behind the door were about 25 rusting, cobwebby iron lungs. Thank you, Dr. Salk.
    You kids can google iron lung.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The Salk vaccine was just coming on when I was a little kid. At age 4 or 5 I got my first shot. The story is that it took four people to hold me down and I still bent the needle. I was a very early anti-vaxxer and remained one until I grew up. Still not a big fan of needles.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    I was born in the early ’60s. I’ve had chicken pox (and shingles*), measles (rubella), and German measles (rubiola). I was vaccinated against smallpox, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, and mumps.

    My father-in-law is a polio survivor. He got off lucky; just some stiffness and numbness in his toes. He spent a year or two of his pre-teen years in a polio clinic in Pittsburgh.

    Anyone who has ever seen whooping cough would go far out of their way to make sure that no child, ever, has to suffer that torture. Tetanus is worse.

    *I’ve lived a reasonably healthy and fortunate life. Shingles is, by an order of magnitude, the worst thing that has ever happened to me. At its peak, I couldn’t wear clothing on my upper body, I couldn’t sleep, and I could neither sit nor lie down without extreme discomfort. And I had a MILD case…

  6. Matt says:

    @Ron Beasley: I first developed shingles at the age of 33…..

    I had gotten a flu shot a few days before in the exact same spot that the shingles started at.

    My guess is the stress I was experiencing about not being sure if I would have a place to live at and other things combined with the shot to overcome my immune system enough for the chickenpox to come back.

    I still have scaring at the original site and it still itches/hurts randomly. Nothing like when it was going full blown though.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I got the shingles shot but it’s only 50% effective.

  8. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: I recently had a tetanus shot and the nurse gave it too high a punctured the bursa in my left shoulder which resulted in bursitis.

  9. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Ron Beasley: Oh, ouch!!! You have my sympathy and my hope that the bursitis will be short lived.

  10. Liberal Capitalist. says:

    One mans opinion…

    Sadly, the majority of the world is reverting to magical thinking rather than science.

    Faith, by definition, is the belief in that which cannot be proved.

    Whether primitive superstition, prayer, naturopathic holistic “medicine” or the belief that organic foods will somehow overcome disease… it results the same.

    I may as well remove brake lights from my car, as I believe that I will not need to slow down, nor do I care of the others behind me and what they do. And I should have the right to do this as it is my personal choice and freedom.

    Morons, all.

    Fox News now promotes a guest that states that mandatory vaccination will lead to state based mandatory abortions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCk-a8GRJak

    We have lost focus on the goal of civilization: That being that our “job” is to make things better for those yet to take on inhabiting this world.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Liberal Capitalist.: I find that ironic considering that one of the major side effects of rubella in pregnant women is miscarriages, birth defects, and autism.

    As mentioned before, my mother had rubella at an early age, with the side effect of finding it very difficult to carry to term. I’m an only child (premature). Aside from me she suffered two stillbirths and at least one miscarriage.

    My father suffered polio as a kid, and had a limp in his right leg for the rest of his life.

    My uncle on my mother’s side had measles-engendered encephalitis, suffered brain damage, and was institutionalized for most of his life.

    People really don’t remember what it was like back then, do they?

  12. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist:

    People really don’t remember what it was like back then, do they?

    How could they? It’s some abstract notion, far-distant history they read in a book when they were kids.

    The eradication or near-eradication of these diseases contributes greatly to the anti-vaccine movement. Almost nobody knows anyone who’s had polio or smallpox, very few know anyone who’s had measles or whooping cough. So absent examples of the very real effects of those diseases, they fixate on exceptionally rare side effects of vaccines and imagined cause-effect relationships between vaccines and childhood disorders.

  13. Liberal Capitalist says:


    @grumpy realist:

    People really don’t remember what it was like back then, do they?

    How could they? It’s some abstract notion, far-distant history they read in a book when they were kids.

    The same can be said for workers rights, unions, women’s rights, etc.

    Battles fought to improve all our lives are continuously being eroded.

    The argument against programs that would benefit the majority always seems to boil down to: “Yeah, and what happens when no money is left?”

    Shortsightedness has led to the money and property of this planet going to the 1%, while “news” channels like fox keep ginning up the populace making them focus on their own miserable pile of nothing.

    Somehow we think that we are living in something better than the fiefdoms of the middle ages. The only difference is a more advance technology. Property is still owned by the royalty, but now it is a financial institution holding your mortgage. Labor is exchanged for money (rather than fealty), but with the minimum wage held so low due to the erosion of the value of the individual (compared to the power of collective bargaining) the result is a new peasantry class.

    A few of us are lucky to make it into the “middle class”, however the position is tenuous and any crisis could quickly erode that.

    It’s a game of three card monte. If you don’t know who the sucker is at this, then sadly it’s you.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This is a problem for liberalism generally. People take 40 hour weeks, Social Security, union membership, civil rights, etc. for granted. They don’t realize they represent hard fought victories. And could be lost.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Mikey: Or what’s even worse, they think they know what it was like by watching Brady Bunch reruns. Gee, no one was ever shown in an iron lung on any TV sitcom, therefore it didn’t happen.

    One of the many reasons I detest TV.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    Next idea out from California: measles parties.

    Dear god. So in order to not deal with a minute risk with the vaccine, you’re willing to expose your special little snowflake to the much greater danger (sterility, encephalitis, blindness, deafness) involved with the illness itself?

    Someone explain to these women how probability works, stat….