From Sugar to a Shot at Freedom by
(194 Stories)

Prompted By Vaccination

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1960. One Sunday my mother, my toddler brother, and I stood in line at the strip mall on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona, New Jersey, so that we kids could be immunized against polio. Not strictly a vaccine, but significant. And, a strong memory for a child who would have been six or seven. I watched as an adult applied a clear droplet to a cube of sugar and put it on my tongue. No more swimming pool scares after that.

We'd had all the vaccines available at the time ... but this was the only time I refused a vaccine.

1961. We’d had all the vaccines available at the time, and I’d had chicken pox naturally. But bad luck, I got the measles, very severely, before that vaccine was available. I don’t remember much because delirium set in, except for dark-colored towels covering my bedroom windows. My mother said she placed me in a bathtub of ice water to take down a sky-high fever. Years later, a hearing test showed deficiencies at odd frequencies, so I had to start wearing hearing aids before I turned 60. Measles could have been a cause. That’s why it’s really hard for me to tolerate anti-vaxxers, knowing these now preventable diseases can be serious.

1971. Brandeis required a smallpox booster before you could enroll as a freshman.

1982. This was the only time I refused a vaccine, for some sort of swine flu. My employer at the time, a very creepy, unethical company, wanted us to get the vaccine. I just didn’t trust the company. So I understand vaccine hesitancy and am more patient with people who have issues with trust, rather than being completely anti-vaccination.

2006. I had my first flu shot, given free by my employer, a very ethical company.

2013. My mother wanted to get the shingles vaccine, and her provider ran out. A week later, she got shingles. The day after I turned 60, I got the vaccine.

2018. For the first time, I got the stronger flu vaccine and the pneumonia shot, for those 65+. Having a really reactive immune system, I felt terrible the next day, but I continue these vaccines for the protection of people older and more vulnerable.

2021. The COVID vaccine arrived, and with some effort I scheduled and received both doses of the Moderna vaccine. As I predicted, I felt out of sorts after the first shot and really rotten after the second. Totally worth it! I still wear my mask outside when I walk, but mostly to help with my allergies. We had an outdoor Passover Seder on paper plates, which was a lot of fun. We are going to Dick’s daughter’s house next weekend and will stay over for the first time since the pandemic began, because everyone in the household has been vaccinated. My family looks forward to taking my mother out to lunch (outdoors) for her birthday at the end of May.

Otherwise, not that much has changed. I’m not one for bars and crowds under any circumstances, and I’d prefer to eat outdoors for a while and not get on an airplane yet. Being without a mask actually feels strange sometimes. This week at the pharmacy, the clerk (masked) addressed me (masked) by name, and I joked that we probably wouldn’t recognize each other without the masks.

There are some empathetic ways for talking with people who are vaccine hesitant, provided they initiate the conversation. Given my background, I sometimes get questions. One analogy that I really like is that the vaccine is something like a fire drill for the immune system. We have fire drills because they train us to know what to do if a real fire breaks out so that we can escape safely. Just as we don’t have to set a fire to conduct a fire drill, the vaccine doesn’t give us COVID to train us to fight it. And, the probability of getting in a car accident on the way to the vaccine appointment is a lot higher than having a serious problem with the vaccine. If any of this has convinced even one person, the conversation was worth it.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Thanx Marian for your personal vax history, and brava for your recall of dates and chronology!

    And thanx for the advice on dealing with anti-vaxxers! I love this recent Facebook meme:

    “Remember when you got polio? No, because your parents got you f*****g. vaccinated.”

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very good history of taking (or in case, not taking) assorted vaccinations. We had to mention the shingles shot to our doctor, which at the time, was only being given at a clinic, once a month, but we were very happy to get that initial one. Now we’ve gotten the better, two-dose version. Again – happy for the upgrade. This was the first year that I got the age-appropriate flu shot, but I’ve gotten them for years now (so long that I can’t even remember when I started). I remember getting the flu when I was pregnant with Vicki. That was NOT fun!

    And I really appreciated the way you described how our immune system works for those who are vax-hesitant. I’ll write that down and use it if I ever get an opportunity. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    I also liked your explanation about how vaccines work. Sometimes a story from a friend has more weight than any amount of scientific explanation–as you well know from marketing! Listening, answering questions, and trust are so important. Public health is impossible otherwise.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story, Mare, with the chronology of all your shots, and your one refusal for good reason. How awful that your mother tried unsuccessfully to get the shingles vaccine, and then came down with shingles a week later. I had the earlier shingles shot, but haven’t gone back for the Shingrix, because so many people I know had a bad reaction to it. But now that I think about it, it wasn’t any worse than the reactions people have had to the Covid vaccine, so I probably should go ahead and do it.

    I love your recommendation for how to persuade the vaccine hesitant, although I don’t know anyone in that category.

    • Marian says:

      The Shingrix shot is nasty (I did get that one as well), but much more protective, Suzy. I have found that vaccine-hesitant folks pop up in the most unlikely groups, but I did reassure two friends and they got the COVID vaccine.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific personal history of vaccine, Marian. I had forgotten some of them (like swine flu). And, yes, I also like your advice for what to say to anti-vaxxers — though I also like Dana’s shorter and blunter suggestion. Though I wonder if any of these geniuses ever really changes his/her mind — at least until getting sick.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. I make a distinction between the anti-vaxxers and the hesitant. For the first I would show them my hearing aids and not waste any more time. For the latter I would have a conversation.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I know we Retrospecters share your history with vaccines, Marian. I had mumps and measles, both miserable illnesses for a child, so I have little patience for parents who won’t vaccinate their children. At the preschool, we used to have a handful who could somehow get a doctor’s note once the state no longer accepted religious or personal belief excuses. I worried about unvaccinated babies and kids who were immune suppressed due to illness. Your pitch for vaccine hesitant people is a good one.

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