I have been asked whether I plan to take the COVID vaccine. I have decided the answer is yes. As soon as the vaccine is available to me, I will gladly roll up my sleeves and take the shot.
One reason is that I’m 83. The second reason is that I have diabetes. Like many people in our community, I’m at higher risk of getting seriously sick and even dying from COVID because of my health and age. I believe the vaccine will protect me, that it will let me get back to a more normal life, and that it will help restore our economy and get people back to work.
I understand why some people may have mixed feelings about the vaccine. There are things from our history – like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and forced sterilization of African-American women – that were atrocities that should never have happened. They affect people’s perceptions of medical care to this day.
But there have also been great gains in medicine that should be part of our consciousness and should also factor into our decisions about taking the COVID vaccine.
There are many examples, but here is one that strikes me as similar to what we face today.
I come from a time when every summer there would be hundreds and hundreds of children stricken with polio. There was great fear that your child would be struck down by polio, that your child would be paralyzed, and that your child would have to be placed in an iron lung.
In Life magazine and the newspaper, there were pictures of children in iron lungs to help them breathe. Like those placed on ventilators today because of COVID, there were uncertainties about whether those placed in iron lungs would ever come out. Some did; some did not. It was frightening, and people were terrified.
But in 1955, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. In the ’60s, Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine came along so you could take the vaccine on a sugar cube.
I was among many who took the polio shot when the vaccine first came out. It was administered at Sloss Clinic at ACIPCO.
I was pregnant with my first son at the time, and I remember the great relief we felt because of the vaccine and how our lives changed for the better. You were not afraid for your child to go outside and play and be around other people. In the years since, vaccines have almost wiped out polio. The United States has not had a case since 1979, and there are only a few countries left in the world where polio remains a threat.
These are things I remembered upon hearing the good news about effective vaccines for COVID-19.
This pandemic has disproportionately affected Black Americans, from a health perspective and an economic perspective. But it has affected all of us in some way, disrupting our normal routines and often separating us from the people we love.
Taking a vaccine is one thing I can do, and am glad to do, to reduce all the pain inflicted by COVID. Just as polio is a distant memory now, I look forward to the day when this new virus no longer dictates our lives and threatens our community.
Maralyn Mosley is a resident of Birmingham who has a long history as an advocate and activist on issues related to health.
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