The vaccination debate is a complex one, but I’m glad I got measles and polio shots

Editor’s note: I’m reposting this from Feb. 3, 2015, in light of the recent measles outbreaks:

photoPardon the resolution on this grainy photo from our upstairs bedroom, but this is an image of my great-aunt Chloe (a name that is now in fashion again) from more than 50 years ago.  Her father William Raddon — whom we lovingly called “Grampa Grop” — was an interesting man: He and his wife (also pictured here in the background) raised six daughters in Park City, Utah, around the turn of the century. They came from Mormon stock.

My great grandfather — who lived past 100 years old — was the editor of the Park City Record newspaper and later was a head pressman at the L.A. Times. As it turns out, the family had relatives here: I heard from them when my mom died in Grass Valley in May 2007. A local shared interesting stories about my mom drinking homemade root beer here, but he recalled it only tasted OK.

As for my great-aunt Chloe, she contracted polio almost at birth and was confined in a wheelchair her entire life. I have fond memories of my time with Chloe: We would go together to the beach at Balboa in Southern California when I was a little tyke.

I was in charge of setting her wheelchair on the point overlooking the bay, so she could watch all of us swim. I remember a rubber handle that had to be firmly affixed to lock the chair in place. I made sure I got it right!

During summer vacations, in the early morning, I  got up to visit Chloe in her downstairs bedroom at their little home on Anade Avenue. She was bedridden until one of her other sisters got up to help her, and before all that “commotion” we would visit. Chloe was extremely intelligent and always bought me a wonderful children’s book for Christmas or for my birthday. We still have some of them in the bookshelf at home.

As I got older, I asked my parents why Chloe was in a wheelchair. They told me she was struck with a disease called polio that left her wheelchair bound.

My generation was more fortunate, because we were able to get vaccinated for polio and measles. I remember my measles shots — but not fondly: There were two of them and my arm was swollen for days. Having said that, I also remember the images of people who were stricken with measles, thanks to the media reports at the time.

I also remember hearing stories about how an earlier generation of our next-door neighbor died of measles — before the vaccination was available.

Having said all this, I respect people who are fearful of being vaccinated. I understand their concerns. It’s a complicated issue.

But my memories of my great-aunt Chloe cloud my philosophy of vaccinations — right or wrong. Our son is fully vaccinated.

Chloe died in her 60s. I think she lived a full life given the circumstances, being surrounded and cared for by loved ones. I do know that she left an indelible impression on me. And that’s why we keep her photo in our home, where we can see it daily.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

4 thoughts on “The vaccination debate is a complex one, but I’m glad I got measles and polio shots”

  1. It is complex but like anything else in life there is such a thing as too much. Compare our infant mortality rate with Japan’s. There is definitely a level of distrust for our pharmaceutical protocols.

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