Retro Talk or Dumbing Down
Call Me Heloise Today

Special Guest Blogger: Norm Jenson

category_bug_journal2.gif EDITORIAL NOTE: Norm Jenson often contributes amusing vignettes of life to The Elder Storytelling Place. Today, I am reprinting a piece he published at his own storytelling blog, Mostly Anecdotal, because it is crucially important.

In recent years, I have been alarmed to read of the anti-vaccine movement, parents who refuse to have their children inoculated against childhood diseases because they think the vaccines cause autism and other conditions.

I well remember the summer of no-swimming-allowed that Norm recalls here. I also remember quarantine signs posted on houses in my neighborhood when kids contracted whooping cough, diphtheria or small pox (with universal vaccination not yet in place). I remember school friends who were crippled by polio and a couple who died of it before vaccines relieved humankind of these scourges.

The parents of the anti-vaccine movement are not only endangering their children, they are endangering everyone else's children. I suppose I could spent some time on research and do the math to estimate how many children would have died in the half century since my childhood without the miracle of modern vaccines. But I think it is enough to merely ask the question.

You may have your own memories of these terrible childhood diseases. Feel free to share them in the comments sections and, urgently, with any parents you may know who withhold vaccines from their children.

Here then is Norm's story.

They Called Him Gimp

“I told you not to go swimming,” she said.

She was angry, really angry. Mom never got angry, not like this, and she never cried, but she was crying.

“What’s wrong, Mom,” I said. “You know I’m a good swimmer.”

“That’s not the point. I told you not to go swimming and I expect you to obey me,” she said.

Mom always had good reasons for her rules. She said it was dangerous, but wouldn’t say why and being a boy, when my friends asked I went swimming anyway.

It was the year I learned what fear looks like in a mother’s eyes.

The day I went swimming was hot, 90 plus, the year was 1953 and I was eight years old. It was the year polio arrived like a freight train out of control, mowing down thousands of kids, kids my age with paralysis and worse. But I didn’t know anyone who had the disease and it was hot.

A few years passed and so did my naïveté. Friends contracted the disease. I participated in a trial of a vaccine that would silence the nasty virus, though I had to get vaccinated twice, once in a trial and later when I found that I’d been given a placebo.

It wasn’t so bad, I didn’t get polio and Mom was not quite as worried as she might have been. She told herself that I had the real vaccine.

I called him Davey; the other boys called him gimp. His twisted limbs made walking difficult for him and painful to watch. He had polio. The disease twisted his legs and it took a steel brace to make it possible for him to walk.

Note to self: when Jimmy and Joey ask you why you are hanging out with the gimp, tell them he’s your friend and that his name is Davey. They will laugh at you and tease you, but you don’t care. When Davey wants to join the pickup baseball game, choose him. There are more important things than winning.

The years passed and I lost track of my friend and forgot about the handicap he dealt with every day. A few years later I saw him again in high school. The memories flooded back when I saw him “walking” down the hall, the brace still in place. High school was different in some ways. The open taunts were gone, but were replaced by snickers from those who didn’t understand that it could have been them.

We went our separate ways after high school. I saw Davey a couple of times after that, but didn’t stop to talk. And now 40-plus years later, I see his obituary in the local paper - his life over, undoubtedly shortened by the disease we all feared so much.

But we never learn. I see well meaning people blaming vaccinations for autism and other ghastly things. They have no evidence, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They are taken in by the woo. They are taken in by the liars who make their livings catering to fear - not the fear we felt in the fifties before there was a vaccine, but the fear that paralyzes with inaction.

They are afraid, but have learned nothing from the past. They follow the woomeisters. The result is predictable. The childhood diseases are returning and this time there is no reason for it.

Note to self: it was scientists, not movie stars, who found the answer to polio. It was scientists who did the hard work to develop the vaccines that time has demonstrated are effective and safe. They are the men and women who understand that correlation is not causation. And now they are being replaced by the woomeisters who haven’t learned the lessons of the past.

They are the ones that make their appearances on the TV talk shows spouting bullshit. The celebrities who fancy themselves as experts in fields they know little about. They practice their make believe not just on the screen, but where it can destroy lives. They are the ones we need to fear, not the vaccines they rail against. If my friend Davey were still here, he would tell them.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Andrews recalls a lot about cars and some other stuff too in Dad and Westport.]


I am a firm believer in vaccines and I question the motives of those who withhold them from their children. I had mumps when I was 7, and had there been a vaccine available for that when my kids were small, I would not have hesitated to have it given to them. I have a cousin who had polio and now suffers from Post-polio syndrome. I am certain she wishes she'd had the vaccine!

Those were frightening times, when we feared swimming. But, living by a lake and having a number of beaches, those 90+ degrees still lured many of us who took the risk just to cool off. We all knew someone with polio.

While standing in long lines, I can still remember the relief I felt over the anticipation of getting the polio vaccine. It is unconscionable for parents to withhold reliable, lifesaving vaccines just because they "think" they cause autism, etc. "Think" does not constitute the scientific method.

I am of two minds about vaccinations. My mother was a public health nurse, and her version of immunization was to take us to some kid's house to get measles, to some other kid's house to get mumps and then to some other kid's house to get chicken pox. When I enlisted and was asked about the "Usual Childhood Diseases," I'd had them all. I did have a smallpox vaccination scar and, as soon as it was available, Mom brought home a polio shot for each of us. This seems to have left me a mixture of pro-vaccine and "old school." I think, as a society, we over-treat.

I was in a trial of the Sabin, oral, polio vaccine. I got the placebo.

My partner's brother is one of those anti-vaccine parents. His son was not given shots -- and got whooping cough, a disease no kid should have to have.

I'm glad school systems require kids to have been immunized. Parental choice about this would make for epidemics in schools. My mother went back to being a school librarian as an older adult in the pre-mumps vaccine days and got it horribly. It's a scary disease later in life.

I remember when the Salk vaccine was first available, there was a question about whether they had used too many "Live" polio germs( I have no idea how the vaccine was made) but some children actually were given polio from the vaccine and it was taken back to the lab for reformulating.

My pediatrician was suggesting that my children be innoculated and I was afraid. The doctor had one son who was 4 years old and I asked him if he had given the Salk to his only child and he said,"No". My response to that was " When you have given it to your child, please let me know and I will bring my children to you for the vaccine."

He did call about 4 months later to tell me he had given his boy the vaccine so,as promised, I took my kids for the Salk injection and I have never regretted it.

Also,I had seen a film about the consequences of having German Measels while you were pregnant and there was no vaccine against German Measels so, just like Always Question's Mom, I took my only daughter to a friend's house when her daughter contracted that disease and my Carol got the Measels so I knew that was one less thing she would have to worry about when she was pregnant. She now has two children and during one of her pregnancies there was a German
Measels outbreak in her area and I was always happy I innoculated her by the only means available at that time.

There are two sides to this quandry and both sides have valid viewpoints. I raised five children in the 50's and 60's in a small town and all of the kids came through the usual childhood diseases without ill effects. Because they were properly cared for. I do agree that polio and smallpox are in a different category and protection is needed. The problem now is the amount of vaccines given to babies from birth. A child receives around 28 shots by the time they are two years old and even more by age 5. This is unnecessary and most young parents I know do have their children protected but insist on a more spread out schedule. Disregard the celebrities and publicity seeking personalities and go to any small town school system and see the children who are in special classes and see how they are having to build more classrooms to accomodate the rising numbers. Don't tell me it's because they were not diagnosed in the past. If that were the case why didn't we see more autistic persons around. Also, if you have a normal healthy happy todler who gets a third battery of innoculations around age two or three and immediately becomes unresponsive and is having seizures etc. what is the explanation? Help us find the cause of this epidemic and don't condemn us to labeled as scaremongers.

There are two sides to this quandry and both sides have valid viewpoints.

The claim that measles vacinne causes autism is not supported by any evidence, that doesn't sound like two valid viewpoints to me. In fact, Dr. Wakefield, whose research started the whole thing has been found to have been a fraud. MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield fixed data on autism

Also, I wish it were true that schools requiring vaccinations were protecting our children, but there are so many exemptions, for religious belief, and such that some areas of the country are now at serious risk. Somona County California for example now has vaccination rates of barely over 50%. Herd immunity will soon crumble and there will be more deaths. There are not two sides, there is fear leading to anecdotal evidence that is unreliable and there is science. We need to rely on the science not on the scare mongers. There have been 152 preventable deaths in the last two years according to the CDC, and thousands more have been sick that didn't need to be, had they been vaccinated.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield did not start the research but was instrumental in having thimerosol banned in Britain. Most of the studies that claimed him to be a fraud was conducted by the drug manufacturers. Norm's story was touching but that is just the point. He had one schoolmate who was a victim of polio. My teenage granchildren have over 20 schoolmates who have lives ruined by forms of the autism syndrome.
I am not against protection but why shoot massive amounts of chemicals into the veins of babies and toddlers for diseases they would never be exposed to.
Ronni, I bet if you asked your Time Goes By followers how many have a grandchild with a form of autism the answer would surprise you.

Yes, there are two sides to the story so let's not get too black and white about it.
I was immunised against diptheria as a child and later, when I first went abroad, against smallpox (it was required back then, in 1953.) I had my children immunised similarly and I had the polio vaccine myself, alongside them, when it was created. (I, too, had known a polio victim - several, in fact.)
I never thought to question immunisation until my cousin's child almost died after a routine triple antigen jab led to meningitis. There are risks.
And I have since learned that in oriental medicine - which is older and sometimes wiser than our Western version - it is believed that the 'normal childhood diseases' such as measles, mumps, and chickenpox are actually one of Nature's ways of building a strong immune system. I had all those three as a child (plus whooping cough). My children had the three also. And when my girls got rubella, my friend brought her kids around so they would catch it too. I believe that the trend towards prevention may have gone too far. There is such a thing as too much protection.
It is only now, for example, that the whole 'war on bacteria' is starting to come into question. We need bacteria, viruses etc. We co-evolved with them. They have important roles to play in our health and we over-protect ourselves at our peril. Remember what happened to those indigenous people who died of influenza because they had no resistance to it? We need to build up our own inner resistance to some bugs, whilst accepting that others need warding off. It is a matter of balance.

My teenage granchildren have over 20 schoolmates who have lives ruined by forms of the autism syndrome.

And there is no scientific evidence that their autism was caused by vaccinations. Remember correlation is not causation. We should continue looking for the causes of autism, but laying the blame on vaccines is dangerous. Furthermore pointing out that autism exists and that it is terrible is not an argument against vaccinating our children. There are risks from vaccines but they pale beside the risks of no vaccine.

All I know is within half an hour after a series of shots my perfeclty healthy boy was foaming at the mouth and having seiezures. He was turning blue and un-responsive. Luckily he came through it. After reasearching and soul searching I was told by my child's doctor and my local public health that neither one would give him any more shots as they didn't want to be liable. You can find research to back up any claim you wish to make and when it is the manufacturer funding the research it is corrupt. Norm, you say anecdotal reports are not evidence... however, when it is your child laying limp in your arms the risks are 100%.

I did not say there were no risks to vaccines, but the risks of not vaccinating are far greater than any risk posed by the vaccines. We shouldn't set public policy based on anecdotal evidence. Further I didn't say that anecdotes are not evidence, but that they are not good evidence. They are a starting point for research. The research on measles vaccine is overwhelmingly clear that the vaccine doesn't cause autism. Our decisions shouldn't be based on isolated incidents reported by parents but should be based on good science. It is the jump from my child had a reaction to a vaccination to it caused autism that is the problem. Certainly you're not saying that since your child had an adverse reaction nobody should have their children vaccinated, and yet that seems to be the implication.

I am with Norm on this issue. His last sentence says it all. People who have autistic children have a need to blame something other than heredity or environment (the only other explanations to date) for their children's terrible problem. I always base my decisions on facts and science and not wishful thinking or fear mongering. I realize that science is sometimes proven to be wrong, but the odds are in science's favor. Looking at this another way - how many children who were vaccinated did NOT become autistic?

I knew two Polio victims who contracted the disease in 1935 and it was an epidemic then. One was paralyzed from the neck down. If Jonas Salk had developed the vaccine then you can bet we children would all have been vaccinated.

One other thing about vaccinations. All children were given smallpox vaccinations in school and I know of no parent who objected. Smallpox was virtually eliminated as a result.

I never even mentioned Autism. Also, I never said "NO one" should get shots. What I did say is my childs life matters. I won't sacrifice my child. What I strongly feel is parents should be better educated and make an informed decisions that is best for THEMSELVES and not be misled by propoganda. Further more.. I worked at a shot clinic at a local fair and watched masses of parents give five to ten viruses to their child and continue on to the beer tent for the remainder of the evening. Okay that is an anecdote.. but it is not unusual for un-educated parents to blindly vaccinate with out knowing what to consider and how to treat children. Children (babies especially) can't express how they are feeling with these viruses so no one advocates for them. Too many un-educated parents follow the heard and don't even know what questons to ask. And as far as the good of the public. If the shots are soo darn wonderful, my child being "un-protected" won't put others at risk. ALL I am saying is wee need to educate parents on all aspects of anything relating to innocuating their childen. Too much is un known.

I believe in vaccinations and remember the same fear parents had about summer and swimming holes. The system needs to be responsible, have good testing and care of the vaccines, but the alternative is a lot of diseases that most people don't want to even think about. I have yet to get the shingles vaccine but it's because of being busy. I intend to get it because if you had chicken pox as a child, the risks of shingles are evidently greater. Some who got measles as children couldn't have children. Best is to be responsible and if there are a few who have a risk from the vaccine, the alternative is far worse. I got the pneumonia vaccine which is a one time deal and cuts the risk if I get the bad flu. I cannot have the flu shots as I am allergic to something in them but I figure if I don't get pneumonia with it, I will be okay.

Rain, what scientific evidence do YOU have to prove you are allergic to something in the flu shot?
So many babies could be allergic to something in the vaccines considering they contain - formaldehyde; mercury; aluminum; bovine and human serum;lab altered viruses and many more.

Anne there is extremely reliable evidence from the CDC that their have been 152 preventable deaths due to no vaccination. There is no reliable evidence that anyone has gotten autism from the measles vaccine. It's certainly possible that one or two deaths have resulted from a bad reaction to a vaccine. Are you saying that 152 deaths are equal to the one or two.

Do you think anyone should vaccinate their children? Do you or would you vaccinate yours?

What a terrible dilemma this is!

My son, now 34, had a terrible reaction to a DPT shot in the late 70s. Luckily the result was a bad afternoon--not a lifelong tragedy. Autism was barely heard of then.

Once autism began exploding, parents understandably felt helpless--and as if they are not taken seriously, nor the problem studied in earnest, by the medical establishment. Withholding vaccines feels at least like something you can DO.

I am by no means convinced vaccines are the cause but I am equally unconvinced that they are not.

Is anyone at least studying the unvaccinated children to see if their autism rates are lower than in the rest of the population? Or is the "establishment" spending all its time and energy dumping on the parents?

This is a serious epidemic, with terrible consequences for families and society. Why now? I'm just not buying the "better screening" argument, either. The symptoms are just too severe.

If my son were a baby now, I'd probably get the least-implicated vaccines, but withhold the most controversial.

It is pointless to argue with someone who doesn't play by the rules of science and reason. If no amount of evidence will change their mind, it is a waste of time to continue arguing.

I am not blaming any one vaccine for the adverse reactions but there is cause for concern about the content and sheer volume of vaccinations given to very young babies. At shot clinics they use vaccines from multiple shot containers which have to have additives to prevent contamination. If they use single dose phials the drug manufacturers do not make as much profit. Parents should be informed, not bullied and scared. Many of the cases of measles outbreaks were among children who were vaccinated. How does that happen? I am not promoting the abolition of vaccines but asking that parents would be allowed to make informed educated choices in consultation with their pediatrician. Meanwhile there has to be research to find the answers.

I'm sure one could get single dose shots if desired., although I haven't seen any evidence that the multiple shot has had any problems. I don't think you'll find any pediatricians that will tell anyone to forgo vaccinations under ordinary circumstances, but there is certainly a lot of bad information out there. It is coming not from doctors but from celebrities, and others who don't have the scientific background to know what they're talking about. Names like Robert Kennedy, Jr. Jenny McCarthy, and Jim Carrey who may be well meaning but are doing a lot of damage, children are dying because their parents are buying in to the fear and pseudo-science these people are peddling.

no scientific evidence, Anne, but observation. The reactions began where I would not feel good and each year it got worse. The last one gave me an illness worse than any flu could have been and a lump at the injection site that lasted for months. I have talked to doctors about it since and they suggested I might try it again someday with half dosages. Some people are allergic to something in it. I am not someone who has to be around the flu or the public that much and when I am out, I avoid touching my mouth or nose until I can wash my hands and have not had the flu for a long time although do remember it being bad-- not worse than that last vaccination though.

Thank you Rain, You are a wise woman. Can you imagine a wee baby getting 7 or 8 shots at once and having allergic reactions like you had. The doctor's advice you mentioned was sensible and safer.

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