One of the curiosities that comes from being an old father with young children is that your household becomes its own science project. Me, the Old Guy, I'm the control group. Or at least my generation is. We demonstrate what happens prior to medical advancements. And my young sons demonstrate what comes from progress.
Recently, I took my triplet 12-year-olds for their second HPV vaccine, the cancer prevention vaccine that is remarkably effective in preventing many cases of cervical, throat and other cancers related to the human papilloma virus. That very week I talked with two different friends of mine, one a bit older than me and one a bit younger, about their current battles with HPV-related cancers, cancers that my boys now have a greatly reduced the risk of ever getting.
My senior year in high school, 1964-65, was a rough year for rubella in America. Rubella, also known as the three-day measles, didn't make people very sick but could have devastating effects on unborn babies if the momma got sick. That year 11,000 pregnant women lost babies; 2,100 newborn babies died; and 20,000 babies were diagnosed with Congenital Rubella Syndrome, a constellation of ailments affecting hearing, vision, heart function and other organs.
But today, because of the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella), only a handful of rubella cases are diagnosed in America, most of them coming from some other country.
Ten years earlier during the second grade, I was sick with measles, the real measles, so sick the public health nurse who came by peered at me from across the room so as not to get too close: measles is highly infectious. Jim Ryun, the great American distance runner, had measles about the same time and lost much of his hearing from this deadly virus.
Years later, working as a doctor overseas, I saw cases of measles and the devastation that can come from an inadequately vaccinated population. But my boys have had the MMR vaccine, and they are protected.
I was in elementary school in the 1950s when the first polio vaccine was distributed. As a little kid, you remember lining up at school to get a shot from a needle and not being very happy about it. But I also remember the relief that parents felt when their children received that vaccine. Polio terrified everyone.
Ike Skelton from Missouri and Jay Dickey from south Arkansas both served in Congress. Both have now passed, but they were polio survivors and told me stories of how polio impacted them.
For my boys, stories about polio are Olden Day tales, stories told by old guys about other old people. Because of the polio vaccine, my sons are blessed to live in ignorance of this devastating disease.
Each year in America, approximately 30 people come down with tetanus, not too bad for a germ that is in the dirt everywhere. Most of those 30 cases are in people who were not adequately immunized.
Fortunately most people get adequate protection from immunizations to prevent tetanus from developing in the cuts and scrapes of life. Tetanus immunization has been available since before World War II, and most of us don't know anyone who had tetanus. I saw cases when I worked overseas, the most disastrous being a newborn baby who was infected through the umbilical stump. It is an awful disease, another one that my boys are at very low risk of getting.
Recently my wife and I took our four boys to get their covid vaccine. I was struck by two things.
First, they were very excited to get it. Summer with friends will be more normal. And second, it felt so routine to be lining them up and getting them protection from another incredibly effective vaccine with an excellent safety record.
Our only regret: We realized later my wife could have gotten her second Shingrix vaccine while we were there, another very effective immunization.
I will spare you Old Guy stories about shingles.
Vic Snyder is the corporate medical director for external affairs at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield.