My Thoughts on Receiving the Vaccine

This picture was taken moments after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 9. We were sitting in the parking lot outside the Celeste Center at the Ohio state fairgrounds for our fifteen minute wait after receiving our shots from the efficient volunteers working with the Columbus Health Department. As I reflect on all this, I find myself filled with a profound sense of gratitude to God in so many ways:

  • For those volunteers–EMTs, nurses, and other health professionals serving on their day off.
  • For our local public health officials, who organized this vaccine site and have provided invaluable health advice throughout the pandemic.
  • For genetic sequencing technology that made it possible for scientists around the world to have the complete genome of the COVID virus, the operating instructions that make the virus work.
  • For the researchers who invested years in their academic training and long hours in vaccine research.
  • For new vaccine technologies, including the mRNA technology that helped reduce the time to initially make the vaccine and is tailored to activate my body’s immune response to the spike proteins on the virus that enable the virus to infect us. From what I hear, it is also easily tweaked, as the virus mutates.
  • For the regulatory agencies like the FDA that ensured that the vaccine is safe and effective through the standard process of testing the vaccine.
  • It is amazing that it is over 90 percent effective. Flu vaccines are typically 40-60 percent effective. The hopes with COVID was a vaccine that was 50 percent effective.
  • For both the Trump and Biden administrations who facilitated the development, production, and distribution of the vaccines (although companies did not receive payments from the government until vaccines were delivered). Despite the highly partisan nature of our politics at present, both parties and administration contributed to this amazing effort.
  • For our state’s governor who has wrestled with the hard decisions balancing lives and livelihoods throughout the pandemic, and opening vaccination to all adults a month ahead of the president’s target. We can argue ways it might have been done better or differently, but I’m thankful for not having to make those decisions and our governor’s willingness to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions. That is good servant leadership.
  • I’m grateful that we are already seeing lower case numbers, lower hospitalizations, and lower death numbers, especially among our elderly population (and I hope we all team up to keep it that way).
  • I’m grateful for the possibility in the next week of being able to share a meal in person with vaccinated friends in safety.
  • I’m grateful that because of the vaccine that even if I should be infected, it is far less likely that I can infect others. Throughout this, my concern is less that I’ll be infected than that I could infect and be the source of serious illness in someone I love.
  • Perhaps above all, I find myself in wonder afresh that the vaccine and the research that produced it is an expression of what it means to be created in the image of God and given dominion under God for his creation. It means the capacity to create vaccines that subdue viruses. I see vaccines like the one in my arm as yet another way in which we were made to glorify God and love our neighbors.

Finally, as I mentioned, I’m glad for a chance to do something tangible to love my neighbor. I see vaccines (like masks) as not so much about protecting me as protecting others. Because of the requirements of social distancing and our age, we’ve not been able to do things with people. We’ve found other ways to care, but it is nice to do something physical and not virtual that makes a difference.

Side effects? They’ve been minimal for both of us. I had a sore arm for a day or so after–like most vaccines, and was a bit tired the night of the second shot. My wife had a bit more–tiredness for a couple days and a rash near the injection site that disappeared within three days–all within the range of normal.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m not into vaccine arguments. I studied the information and made my personal decision a long time ago. Now I’ve acted on that decision. I’m won’t argue with you about yours. But I will give thanks that I could make the decision I did.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sabin Vaccine Distribution

Photo from The Vindicator, December 1, 1961 via Google News Archive

Today we were able to schedule vaccinations for COVID-19. We happened to discover our local department of health’s vaccination site was scheduling appointments for our age group. The week after next, we will literally drive through the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, roll down our car windows, roll up our sleeves, get our shots, and drive to a waiting area to make sure we have no reactions.

It reminds me of a similar mass vaccination when I was a child. Polio left Franklin Roosevelt with paralyzed legs and infected many children and adults, sometimes requiring iron lungs to help them breathe, and often leaving them with one or more paralyzed limbs. We know some of these people. We feared summer when polio spread most rapidly and spoke of “polio season.” The first breakthrough came in 1955 when Jonas Salk from the nearby University of Pittsburgh introduced a “killed virus” vaccine. I received this as a shot as a young child. Then in 1961 Albert Sabin introduced an oral version of an attenuated virus vaccine that produced a stronger immune response but was safe. One of the striking things was that Sabin refused to patent the vaccine and did not make any money off it, living on his professor’s salary.

It was administered in three ways: via a dropper, mixed into a cup of distilled water, or put into a sugar cube. The Sabin vaccine was distributed in two drives in Youngstown, one on November 30 and December 1, 1961, and the other on February 15 and 17, 1962. In Youngstown, the vaccine drive was headed up by Dr. Kurt Wegner with the Mahoning County Medical Society. During each of these drives, upwards of 130,000 Mahoning County residents received the vaccine in a single dose diluted in a small cup of distilled water. There were sites at the courthouse, Manor Avenue School, Austintown Fitch, Boardman, Poland, Canfield, Struthers High Schools, Chaney, East, and North High Schools, Hillman, Kirkmere, Hayes, and others.

We went to Chaney High School, like those in the photograph above. I can’t remember whether it was in November or February. There were long lines but they moved fairly quickly. We got our little cup, drank it up, and walked out. That was it. And polio disappeared. Eventually, the Sabin vaccine disappeared (still in use in some countries) and the Salk version since 2000 is the only version given in the U.S. in four doses.

It is kind of amazing to me given our present situation that most of Mahoning County’s residents received the vaccine during two weekend drives, at a time when they weren’t in a health emergency. It’s a different time, and today’s vaccines have different and more stringent storage requirements.

I don’t want to debate vaccines here (please, please don’t). It’s a personal decision. Mine is to get the vaccine. I remember polio seasons and am glad many others don’t need to. I look forward to the day the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. And to that jab in my arm.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Will I Accept Vaccination?

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

As I sit down to write, word came that the FDA had authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. This followed authorization of the vaccine in the U.K. this past week. There is a great deal of controversy about the vaccines, some from those who oppose all vaccines, and others with concerns about the vaccines for COVID.

I do not want to argue about this. I don’t have the time, and your argument really isn’t with me but the scientific experts and public health people who know more about this stuff than either of us. I simply am going to share my own thinking and decision. In short, when my turn comes, which likely won’t be for several months yet, I will accept vaccination.

Here’s how I think about it. While there is a very small risk of side effects with any vaccine, the risk of death at my age with COVID is significantly greater. I have not been infected and so am susceptible. I am not afraid of death as a Christian who believes that when death comes I will rest in peace with the Lord and rise in glory at the resurrection. But I treasure the gift of embodied life and here, as in other matters of self-care, I choose to care for the body with which I have been entrusted.

I have been vaccinated throughout my life without ill effect. I was born about the time the first polio vaccine was approved. I have friends a few years older suffering the lifelong effects of polio. I’ve not had concerns about tetanus (a gruesome way to die) or diptheria or pertussis because of vaccines. I had measles, mumps, rubella as a child. I’m glad my son didn’t. I harbor the chicken pox virus in my body because that vaccine wasn’t around when I was a child. I’ve had the shingles vaccine to prevent the adult version of this childhood disease. I’ve had yearly flu vaccines and pneumonia vaccines. I think I’ve had the flu only twice in my adult life. I do realize some people have allergies that may rule out vaccines and they should discuss this with their health care provider.

Beyond my own health is the wider health of our society. That society begins with my wife who has the same risk factors and is a cancer survivor. Vaccines work by interrupting the chain of infection. COVID must find an organic host or die. I think we have had enough COVID. Enough (and more than enough) have gotten very sick or died including dear friends. I don’t want to be the cause of sickness and death in another. I want COVID to run out of hosts and die, or at least be severely suppressed. That can only happen if most of us get the vaccine. I suspect we always will need to be watchful, but vaccines, when used widely, have eradicated some diseases. I’m glad to do my part. We don’t need more years like 2020 with its losses of lives and livelihoods and all the other impacts on our society.

I’ve read all the claims about dangers or conspiracies (so don’t post them or send them to me). I’m not convinced. What does convince me is the process. I have friends who have been in trials, and all spoke about the informed consent, the monitoring, and deliberate care. Some of these friends are scientists who recognize when corners are being cut. None were. No, the vaccine doesn’t change my genetic code. No Bill Gates is not inserting microchips in all of us. The animus against Bill Gates puzzles me when he and Melinda Gates have done so much with their money to save lives, with nothing to personally gain except the satisfaction of doing it. Yes, he was pretty cut-throat in building Microsoft. But maybe his life suggests the hope of redemption. Personally, I don’t have any time for the Gates-bashing crowd–I’m just challenged by his example of generosity which makes me ask myself how generously and generatively I live. But I digress.

I hope vaccination will not be a political football in the U.S. The current occupant of the White House lent his endorsement to the effort to develop the vaccine in record time. The presumptive president-elect has signaled a target of 100 million vaccinated in 100 days. Former presidents of both parties have said they will be vaccinated on screen. I don’t see being vaccinated as a litmus test of political loyalty any more than any other vaccine I’ve ever received.

I’m most glad that our front line health care people have first access to the vaccine. I want those who have not already gotten sick to be spared. I also hope we cooperate when it is our turn, so they will not have to keep seeing the horrors of these past months of watching people say good bye to loved ones on a I-pad, of being the only one with someone as they take their last breaths. Yes, this is part of medicine, but not in the heart-breaking numbers they are seeing right now.

I decided to write about this because I sense many who read me have at least some regard for some of the things I say. If you differ, it does not change my regard for you. If you think I’m out to lunch or deceived, pray that I might see the light–but don’t argue or send me articles. I’ve likely seen them or ones like them. I just wanted you to know how I’ve been thinking about this decision and what I’ve decided. I look forward to the day when this is in the rear view mirror, when we can make up for all the celebrations we’ve missed. I hope we can be there together or enjoy each other’s pictures on Facebook. Stay safe my friend.

[I am serious about not wanting to argue about this. I consider it a waste of time and energy. And I will take down posts that try to do this.]