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Ouch! 2nd COVID shot, March 6, 2021

This year it seems like the main topic of everyone’s conversation is the Covid vaccine. Have you been vaccinated? Which brand of vaccine did you get? What side effects did you have? Did you get the shots in the same arm or opposite arms? You might think that there had never been a vaccine before. But in our lifetime there have been two other deadly diseases for which vaccines were a miracle cure.

Long before the Covid vaccine, there were two other deadly diseases in our lifetime for which vaccines were a miracle cure.


Smallpox was the first deadly disease that I was vaccinated against, at such a young age that I don’t remember it. For some reason, the smallpox vaccine left a scar that remained visible for the rest of one’s life. In one sense this was good, nobody needed to worry about a “vaccine passport” because the proof of being vaccinated was on your arm. Most people had a scar on the outside of their arm, but my mother told my father to give me the shot on the inside of my arm so it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Since my father was my doctor, I got all my shots from him for my entire life until I moved to California in my mid-twenties. He prided himself on giving shots that didn’t hurt, and it was true. I was never scared of getting a shot because they were never painful for me.

Here’s a picture of my scar, on the inside of my arm. It’s so unobtrusive, I had trouble even getting a photo that would show it.

Now here’s what a conventional smallpox vaccination scar, on the outside of the arm, looks like. Amusingly, when I found this picture online, it was accompanied by an article entitled “How to spot a cougar at the bar” – the idea being that anyone with a scar like this had to be at least forty, probably closer to fifty (for reasons explained in the next paragraph).

The vaccine worked. Routine vaccination was stopped in the US in 1972 because the disease had been eradicated in this country. Smallpox was declared eradicated around the world in 1980. This disease no longer exists, because everyone was vaccinated!


The first polio epidemic in the US occurred in 1916, with 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. There was no known prevention or cure, so it continued to strike every year, mostly in the summer. My friend Laurie’s aunt, who was born in 1918 during the Spanish flu epidemic, came down with polio when she was 2 ½ years old. She wore this brace until she died at the age of 91. She had eleven operations between the ages of 2 ½ and 11. They thought that if they cut or extended the muscles, her leg would grow to a normal size. It did not. Her leg was the size of an adult arm for the rest of her life. Laurie says she was overjoyed when the polio vaccines were successful.

I only know from my research that in the late ’40s and early ’50s parents were terrified that their children would get polio. I never heard about it from my parents. For some reason children were particularly susceptible to this disease that could lead to paralysis and even death. Between 1949 and 1954, 65 per cent of polio victims were children. Another name for it was infantile paralysis because of its propensity to affect children. Since it was most common in the summer, swimming pools, summer camps, movie theatres and other warm-weather gathering places were shut down in many communities. Some towns prohibited children under the age of sixteen from entering. Quarantines were imposed on households where someone had contracted polio.

Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine, which became available in 1955 and was given to all schoolchildren. As a result of this vaccine, the hysteria subsided. I don’t have a memory of getting these shots (a series of three), but I know that I did, and, as with the smallpox vaccine, I am sure that my father administered them.

Then in 1960, Albert Sabin developed a new vaccine that was given orally instead of in a shot, also in three doses. I vividly remember “Sabin Oral Sunday” when I was nine years old. We all went down to a nearby church where they were distributing sugar cubes with the liquid polio vaccine on it. This occurred on three consecutive Sundays. The vaccine was given to entire families. In retrospect, I wonder why, if we had already been given the Salk vaccine, we also got the Sabin one. Maybe it was just the idea that you can’t be too careful?

The last cases of polio in the US occurred in 1979, among Amish residents of four states who had refused vaccination. There were no more after that. So it appears that, like smallpox, we have conquered this disease. However, I do remember that the regimen of shots my children received as babies included polio shots, and an internet search reveals that they are still recommended, although since 2000 it has been an inactivated virus instead of the live virus used earlier.


I had my first shot on February 6, and my second shot on March 6, 2021. Two weeks later, on March 20, I was fully immune. I didn’t immediately do anything to celebrate, but I certainly felt greatly relieved. My sisters and I started planning a family reunion for this summer, feeling confident that everyone in the family will be vaccinated by then.

What have I done since that time?

April 7 – I had my hair cut, and though I wore a mask to protect other people, for the first time I felt unconcerned about my own safety.
April 9 – we had dinner with another fully vaccinated couple at their house, and didn’t put on masks at any time.
April 16 and April 27 – dinners at restaurants, once with friends, once by ourselves. We sat on the patio both times, mainly because the weather was so nice. I would have been fine with eating inside.
May 2 (tomorrow) – my book group will meet in person for the first time in over a year, and we’re all very excited. The book we are discussing takes place during the flu epidemic of 1918.
May 3 (Monday) – I have jury duty. My original summons was for March, but I requested a two-month postponement so I could be confident it would be safe. I don’t know if they will have the jury panels be socially distanced or not.

Still waiting for both my choir and my mah jongg group to start meeting in person, but in both groups we are talking about doing it soon.

I know the pandemic is not over, and that we have to keep being careful for a while longer, but the CDC has now said that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks at all unless they are in crowded places. That feels really good to me!

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Really great idea to not only cite the two other deadly diseases with vaccines that have been developed in our lifetime, but to add some important and interesting information about both of them. (I only addressed polio in my own story.)

    And your personal COVID vaccine “diary” is also fascinating and it so well reflects the careful opening up of our lives that I think many of us are now experiencing. I will be particularly interested in your jury story, especially since juries have not come back yet in either NY or MA, the two states I’m most knowledgeable about in this regard — though I am now personally “aged out” of jury duty. I doubt, in any event, you will have a “Twelve Angry Men” scenario of being confined in a jury room for hours and hours closely together (and unmasked).

    Any points for correctly predicting your title — which, of course, is perfect?

    • Suzy says:

      No points for predicting this title, it was too easy! Sometimes I have to google “songs about X” to find a title, but not this time.

      I’ll keep you posted on my jury experience. I already know that instead of having dozens of groups all show up at 8 a.m., making for hundreds of people in the jury room, they are calling in two groups at a time. My group doesn’t have to be there until 10 a.m. I’m very happy about that!

  2. Thanx Suzy for your vax story and for reminding us of the other epidemics in memory and how we overcame them. May this one soon be a memory too!

    And now a back-to-normal question – what book is your book club discussing tomorrow?

    • Suzy says:

      Ah, my librarian friend, thanks for asking. I almost included the name of the book in my story. It is The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue (who wrote Room). She started writing it in 2018, because it was the 100th anniversary of the flu epidemic, and by the time it was published in 2020, it was more timely than she ever could have imagined.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Good history of vaccinations, Suzy. Great that your father was your doctor and he was gentle with you. I’m certain that was not the norm, but isn’t it interesting how, half a century later, we have “anti-vaxxers”, who somehow don’t believe in science (thank you Republicans) who won’t get vaccinated, thus slowing the economic recovery and making everything less safe for all of us!

    Let me know when your choir returns. I know yours is part of your temple, and I assume fairly small. Mine is a community chorus, definitely skews older and can be quite large (60-90 people), depending on what we are singing. We meet in a parochial school in Newton, so we depend on their kindness, as well as health and safety guidelines for the community, but I had a raging fight with my husband last night who FORBADE me to sing with them (even if everyone is vaccinated), if they return in September! And if I choose to return, he said, I can’t live with him. Pretty extreme, wouldn’t you say?

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, I’m shocked that Dan would say that! I would advise you to consult a lawyer. I assume the deed to the house is in both of your names, in which case he can’t legally kick you out. I definitely think you should sing with your chorus when it returns, no matter what he says.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Newton is in both our names, MV is just in my name. Dan likes to bluster. I’m used to it, though it is shocking. Meanwhile, he’s eating inside at restaurants. This all wears thin after a while. I look forward to seeing what my chorus says in Sept.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for including the smallpox and polio stories. Rotary has played a major role in eliminating the latter (as John mentioned in his story)–or at least almost. Residual areas have been hampered by anti-vaxxers in the forms of fundamentalists (Boko Haram), as public health workers have been targeted. So it really is a world-wide effort to get people vaccinated, and to deal with the anti-vaxxers as well.

    • Suzy says:

      Khati, thank you for reminding me that while the US may have conquered polio, there are still other parts of the world that have not. I guess that’s why it is still important for American babies to be vaccinated, as part of the world-wide effort.

  5. Marian says:

    Great story, Suzy, and the facts about smallpox and polio are fascinating. What an awful brace your friend’s aunt had to wear. A sober reminder … I think the switch to sugar cubes had something to do with either the efficacy or the safety profile of the original shots. With a live virus, it’s theoretically possible (but very rare) that someone could get polio from the vaccine. I too must have received the polio shots but don’t remember them. Fortunately I’ve never been freaked by needles.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Mare. Not remembering your polio shots must mean that they were given by someone who knew the technique for giving painless shots. It can be done, despite the experiences to the contrary that many of our Retro authors have had.

  6. Thanks for sharing all the well-researched information about Polio and Smallpox. While I don’t remember smallpox (though I was always fascinated by the scar my mother wore), I was one of the first round of Salk vaccine recipients. I remember standing on line in the school auditorium waiting to get the shot. It was a monumental event.

    • Suzy says:

      Penny, I’m astonished that you don’t have a smallpox vaccination scar. I thought everyone born before 1972 had one, unless their parents were early anti-vaxxers. Seems odd that your mother had one and you do not.

  7. A full report! Just a great survey. I’d love to read your version of the 1918 pandemic. As a veteran of the mid ’50s polio scares (real) you rang some alarm bells. You ended just right with your personalized vaccination action passion. (I had to put those last three words together. Got a laugh out of the cougar identification hack and loved your wincing vac passport pic! A warm account of a difficult chapter of life on planet Earth, 2021.

    • Suzy says:

      I don’t know much about the 1918 pandemic, but I appreciate your suggestion that I write about it. Barring that, I recommend the book I mentioned to Dana, The Pull of the Stars.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, thanks for sharing this history of polio, smallpox, and now Covid vaccines. You were so lucky your father gave you all of your childhood vaccinations. And I love your featured image. Who took that? Like you, I’m eager to get back to the new normal, whatever that will be.

    • Suzy says:

      My husband took the picture, one of a whole series. When we had our first shots, we went to different “stations” and got them at the same time. For the second one, we wanted pictures, so we went to the same station, got our shots one after the other, and took multiple pictures of each other. The most flattering one was the one I used for my “Losing A Whole Year” story, where I am wide-eyed and smiling. I thought this one, where I am wincing as she first sticks the needle in, seemed right for this story.

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