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We get vaccines for dormant diseases; why not for an active one?

As I went through the process to attend SUNY Potsdam this fall, in hopes of becoming an English teacher, my registration was held up temporarily because of a question about vaccination — and not for COVID-19.

State officials have said SUNY students will have to get COVID shots to attend classes in person, but no one from Potsdam has asked me about this yet. I got my shots months ago and am grateful that we live in a country where they are so prevalent. Instead, though, the college wanted proof of my measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination. I got that when I was a baby, back in 1975. I had no record of it, but when I asked my mother, she knew right where it was. She took a picture of it and sent it to me, and I sent it on to SUNY Potsdam Student Health Services. Thanks, Mom.

However, college health officials said they prefer the MMR shot to be given after one’s first birthday. Since I got mine before I turned 1, I had to either get it again or get “titers,” a blood test to see if I am still immune. I wish the college put some of that seriousness into checking COVID vaccinations, but nonetheless, I got the titers and am happy to report that the shot I received 46 years ago still offers me solid protection.

While it’s easy to roll one’s eyes at the college’s bureaucracy, this episode reminds me that I have never gotten measles, mumps or rubella (aka German measles). I don’t think I’ve even known anyone who did. I’ve also had no noticeable side effects from the shots. For generations now, various vaccinations have been required for anyone attending school, and they work. Diseases that ravaged the population a few generations ago are now rare. My parents, when they were kids, were “polio pioneers,” the first to get the vaccine for that horrible illness. Like for COVID, that was a new vaccine developed under emergency circumstances, and now Americans don’t have to worry about polio anymore.

I have trouble understanding why almost half of Americans are holding out on getting COVID-19 shots, and why many refuse to let their children get them. They get themselves and their kids protected against dormant diseases like rubella (officially eliminated in the U.S. in 2004 but still a problem elsewhere, according to the CDC) but not for an active pandemic that poses a clear and present danger. In the last 16 months, COVID-19 killed more than 610,000 people in the U.S. — almost the population of Vermont — and nearly 4.2 million worldwide, and sickened millions more. It is making a comeback, which will probably get much worse come fall virus season. The new wave is almost completely among unvaccinated people, but it threatens all of us. The more coronavirus is out there, the more chance it has to mutate into dangerous strains. Yet we hem and haw about requiring vaccinations even for doctors and nurses — people who handle us physically, inside and out — or for the Ironman triathlon that saw thousands of people jam-packed on the shore of Mirror Lake Sunday morning.

People protest that the very existence of a system to verify one’s COVID vaccination infringes on civil liberties. This makes no sense to me. Vaccine “passports,” as they’re called, are just records. Right now my only proof is a piece of paper with a nurse’s handwriting on it; I’d like something more legitimate. How can someone who is active on Facebook, the ultimate tracking device, and who has licenses to drive and fish get paranoid about a vaccination record? I also don’t get why this is political. Any party that discourages protection from a deadly disease will likely see its voters die — and for what?

Masks, social distancing and closures were temporary patches; vaccines are a permanent solution to the pandemic, offering better protection with less hassle. They’re easy and effective, and their availability in America is the envy of the world. Let’s get our shots and get this thing over with.

(Peter Crowley lives in Saranac Lake.)