Jim Beam column:Vaccine opposition puzzling

Published 6:39 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Opposition to getting vaccinated has always been surprising to me because of the many shots I have had during my lifetime. The first one I remember was the smallpox vaccination because it formed a sore-like image on my arm.

As for the many others since then, I can’t recall any major reactions of any kind. I do recall getting an unusual number of shots at the same time when I attended my six-week ROTC camp at Fort Benning, Georgia.

We walked through a line getting shots in both arms, and I was weak in the knees by the time I made it through the line. However, I still can’t remember any other reaction at the time. I got more shots during my two years of active duty in the U.S. Army.

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My dad contracted polio at age 6 and had to walk with a crutch for the rest of his life because of one bad leg. I remember the great rejoicing that took place when Jonas Salk discovered and developed the first successful polio vaccine.

The American Press had a bold banner headline on Page 1 on April 12, 1955, that said, “Polio shots prove effective.” An Ann Arbor, Mich., story said there were more than 200 persons jammed into a rectangular newsroom for the announcement on the University of Michigan campus.

“Photographers and motion picture men stood on chairs, tables — anything — to get their shots,” The Associated Press reported. The news agency added, “It was a sight not soon to be forgotten.”

Some years ago there was a belief going around that vaccines were causing autism in children. Health authorities have disputed that theory, but it’s still alive today. Now, COVID-19 vaccinations are creating more confusion.

I’ve had all of the COVID-19 shots and boosters that were given and am anxiously awaiting an opportunity to get the new booster shot with my annual flu shot.

During the pandemic, I tried to avoid large crowds and wore a face mask when among people. So far, with my fingers crossed, I’m happy to say I haven’t had COVID-19.

Some news reports have downplayed the effectiveness of masks and other precautions. However, since doctors and nurses wear masks all the time, I’m  convinced that they are effective at preventing disease.

The “PBS News Hour” in a Sunday news release said “A new COVID vaccine is here, but those at greatest risk may not get it as outreach drops off.” It said about 75 percent of people in the United States appear to have skipped last year’s booster.

Vaccines offered in 2021 have diminished over time and boosters have been shown to strongly protect people against severe COVID and death and more modestly prevent infection, the news release said.

PBS said hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID have risen in recent weeks, and COVID remains a leading cause of death. It said roughly 7,300 people have died from the disease in the past three months.

Jails and prisons have seen some of the largest U.S. outbreaks. Low-income groups are also at heightened risk because they don’t have paid sick leave and medical care.

I have seen more people wearing face masks recently, but they aren’t doing it in large numbers.

The fact that fewer Americans aren’t getting COVID boosters isn’t the worst news. The Advocate reported that since the pandemic, an increasing percentage of children have entered school unvaccinated against mumps, measles, and polio, among other communicable diseases.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state’s health officer and medical director with the Louisiana Department of Health, said, “Measles, when it’s severe, is such a devastating disease and we’ve done such a good job at eradicating it.”

Kanter said measles is “one of the most communicable diseases known to mankind” and the consequences can be severe. Out of 1,000 children infected, 1-2 are statistically going to die from the disease.

Despite his concerns, Kanter said Louisiana’s vaccination numbers were still strong, leaving with him the hope that things may improve again.

Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale University, told PBS, “Urging people to get boosters has really only worked for Democrats, college graduates, and people making over $90,000 a year. He said those are the same people who will get the new booster.

Misinformation spread by politicians may account for disparities seen along political lines, with 41% of Democrats having gotten a bivalent booster compared with 11 percent of Republicans.

We live in a much different world now. Thanks to former President Donald Trump, many people no longer accept the advice of medical officials, and they don’t trust the news media outlets that provide much of their news.