As a child I was not vaccinated. As a young adult, I took every vaccination imaginable. Why the change? And why at that time?
My parents, for religious reasons, did not have any of their children vaccinated. Therefore, when I was six years old in 1960, and our school held a district-wide vaccination campaign – probably against small pox – my parents declined to have us participate.
At my elementary school, the needles were not properly sterilized (a common problem before disposable needles) and those who received vaccinations contracted hepatitis.
Hepatitis is a virulent disease and easily transferable. Our entire community came down with it, including every single person in my family, although none of us received the vaccinations.
I sat at our dining room table, too ill to lift my fork; watching my father and baby sister struggle to do the dishes. My littlest sister reached up to take a dish from our father, dry it awkwardly with a giant dish rag, then reach up to set it on the counter. That's the only time I ever saw my dad do dishes. The rest of my family were too sick to help.
Meanwhile, my mother lay in bed, covered with blankets because she was shivering. Our neighbor sat with her but could do very little by way of comfort. My mother was the color of dark brown mahogany stain. I wondered if she was dying.
I was told, frequently, that hepatitis was in my blood forever. That I should never ever, EVER give a blood transfusion because my blood could make someone who was already sick, even more sick. Perhaps even kill them. So, of course, no blood donations from me. (Yes, that is a sigh of relief from me in the background.) I didn't really want to give my blood away, but I would have if called upon to help friends or family in need.
Other than not giving blood, hepatitis didn't disrupt my life significantly. All my doctors knew about it, all my employers knew about it, all my dear friends had heard the story many times so they knew all about it.
But then my husband and I applied to serve in the Peace Corps. They wanted to know about that hepatitis because serving in second and third world countries could put me at risk, or I could put others at risk. Fortunately, by then, medical advancements had sorted out that there are several forms of hepatitis, caused by different forms of infection. Although mine was part of a community infection, it tested among the safe varieties. I could serve in another country with no fear – and also give blood. If I wanted to!
So because of a bad vaccination incident, I became infected with a terrible disease that was safe as long as it stayed inside me. I can understand parents who fear the effects of vaccinations on their children. My family was very ill, and I was affected all my life by a vaccination, but I didn't even get poked by a needle!
Next week, the rest of my story.