My sister is eight years younger than I am. As generation gaps go, it’s not a very big one. We understand most of the same slang and recognize the same pop culture references. But there is one small but very important difference due to our ages: I had chicken pox as a child, and my sister did not.

When I was a child, in the mid-’90s, the chickenpox vaccine had been invented but was not widely distributed. By the time my sister was growing up in the mid-’00s, it was a part of regular, widespread vaccine scheduling. She doesn’t have pockmark scars near her eyebrows like I do, and she didn’t have to take baths with oatmeal soap like I did.

I’m a big fan of vaccinations. I got the three-dose Gardasil when I was in college (my sister only had to have two doses. Lucky.) and I get my flu shot at Hannaford every year. And this week I’ve been thinking a lot about people who choose differently after reading that a Kennebunk school had to cancel an annual community dinner due to fears of a potential whooping cough outbreak. I mean, WHOOPING COUGH. It’s 2018, not “Little House on the Prairie.”

When I was a kid, my favorite movie was “Balto.” (OK, OK — it’s still my favorite movie). Who can resist a beautifully animated, semi-true story about a heroic dog? I sure can’t.

When my boyfriend went to New York City this summer, he took exactly one photograph of himself while he was there, and it was with the Balto statue in Central Park, because he knows how much I love that movie. In the movie, as in real life, a relay of sled-dogs had to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to a village in Alaska cut off from the outside world in the middle of winter.

In the movie, the sick children are portrayed as being pale and coughing. After all, it’s a kid’s movie. You couldn’t show the real symptoms of diphtheria, because in real life, the disease was called “The Strangler.” Black and gray film grows on the inside of the throat and physically chokes off the airway. That’s how it kills. And while in real life the heroic sled dogs did save dozens of children, others, particularly in the Native Alaskan community, died in that outbreak.

Children used to die of disease all the time. Culturally, we’ve forgotten that with the advance of science, but it’s true. And we’re not so far removed from that era. My grandmother grew up watching the public pool get closed every year due to polio outbreaks. My mother has a mark from a smallpox vaccine on her arm. But I’m afraid we take the safety of our children for granted. Measles kills, and it’s highly contagious. I don’t want to live in a world where getting coughed on in the street could mean fever and death a week later.

And unfortunately, in large part, it’s women in my demographic that are leading the charge against vaccinations — white, educated women who are big into organic foods and who just sort of have a feeling that they don’t need to vaccinate their children.

Facts don’t care about your feelings. Fact: Vaccines are safe, effective, and one of the greatest medical revolutions in the history of humanity. Fact: Vaccines do not cause autism. Fact: Every time I sell a Playboy magazine featuring former Playmate Jenny McCarthy, queen of the anti-vaccine movement (I can only assume that years of bleaching her hair may have bleached her brain a little), I add a note in the envelope reminding my customers to please vaccinate their children. Fact: Your unvaccinated child might survive a bout of measles or whooping cough, but an infant too young to be vaccinated or a person undergoing cancer treatment, with a weakened immune system, might not.

Fact: Living in a civilized society like ours requires that everyone make small, occasionally inconvenient sacrifices, like paying taxes and wearing deodorant. Getting yourself and your children vaccinated is one of those things.

And, fact; Maine has a terrifyingly low rate of vaccination. While our newly-elected government has lots on their plate, I hope that they will take up laws making it harder to opt out of vaccination, and easier for children (and their parents) to see doctors. I am going to write my state representative and state senator about that, and I hope you will too.

This year, I am thankful for my good health. And I am thankful for the shots that enable it.

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

 


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