There is a band of ugly, blotchy, poxy scars wrapping around the right side of my torso, starting near my navel and curving all the way around to my spine, sort of in the shape of the Nike “swoosh” logo. I have never been a big fan of bikinis, but now they are completely out of the question. But worse than the scars is the residual nerve pain that flares up when I am stressed out or physically exerted. There’s not much you can do for nerve pain other than wait it out. Now I just live with the semi-frequent sensation of being stabbed in the ribs.

Both the scars and the pain are unwanted leftovers from the bout of shingles I had last year, and they could have been prevented with one of two vaccines. If I had been vaccinated for the chickenpox virus as a child, I wouldn’t have developed shingles. But when I was in elementary school, the varicella vaccine was still pretty new, and my pediatrician’s office waited awhile before offering it, to observe and gather more data. So I got chickenpox.

The chickenpox virus laid dormant in my body for years until erupting as shingles, kind of like a zombie. There is also a vaccine that can prevent shingles, but it is usually only offered to adults over the age of 50, who are more likely to develop more severe cases. So I didn’t get a shingles vaccine. And now I have gross scars, and a case of what is medically known as “post-herpetic neuralgia” and what I call “shingle tingles.”

I’m a big fan of vaccines. I got the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine back in January. I had no side effects from the first shot. After the second shot, I felt achy in my joints for about 24 hours, but it was manageable with ibuprofen and a strong cup of coffee. If you or someone you love has not been vaccinated yet, I would like to personally ask that you please do it. About 60 percent of Maine’s population has received the COVID vaccine. That’s good, but it’s not good enough.

See, in my day job, I do clerical work in a lung clinic. I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t offer any sort of medical advice, but what I can say is that I see what happens to your lungs after a bout of COVID pneumonia. It can, and will, damage your lung capacity. Imagine getting winded climbing the stairs to your bedroom or taking your dog for a walk. That’s what the coronavirus can do to you – if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, your fluid-filled lungs cannot get enough oxygen to your body. You don’t have to be a doctor to know what happens if the human body doesn’t get enough oxygen.

You might be worried about “breakthrough” cases, when people who have been fully vaccinated test positive for COVID anyway. It might make you wonder what the point of vaccination is. Here’s the thing: a vaccine isn’t like a wall. A vaccine is like a security guard who has been trained in de-escalation techniques. A trespasser might be able to get into your house, but the security guard can escort him back out without him breaking all of your furniture.

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I love Maine. I love Mainers. I love my patients, and I worry about them. I worry about the immunocompromised. I worry about folks with underlying health conditions. I worry about children. Mostly, I worry that not enough of our population is vaccinated to provide them all protection.

It’s true that you have the right to refuse vaccination, just like you have the right to smoke cigarettes. But secondhand smoke can be deadly to people nearby who didn’t consent to the risks and rewards of lighting up. So can unvaccinated people. In America, you have the right to endanger yourself, but you don’t have the right to endanger other people. We are already seeing vaccination as a condition of employment at many places; more will follow. I’m a fan.

Viruses evolve. Because they are infinitesimally small, they evolve very quickly to be more transmissible and more deadly. An internal CDC document says that the delta variant of the coronavirus is as contagious as chickenpox. My body is evidence of how damaging a virus that contagious can be.

Every time a virus moves from one host to another, it gets another chance at evolution. Don’t give it that chance. Get vaccinated.

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


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