Vaccinations have been around for as long as I can remember. When I was very young, the older kids had tell-tale scars on their shoulders from the smallpox vaccine. By the time it was my turn, they were giving those shots on the hip. You had to pull down the side of your pants to get it, and I’m pretty sure I cried. They stopped giving the smallpox vaccines in the 1970s, after the disease was eliminated thanks to a worldwide vaccination effort led by the World Health Organization. But before it was eradicated, smallpox killed millions of people. I didn’t know any of that when I got my shot. All I knew was that getting my vaccination, as much as it hurt, made me feel like one of the big kids – even without the cool shoulder scar.
Over the years, my sisters and I had a variety of viruses: measles, mumps, and chicken pox. We had more shots too. By the time my own children were born, there was the MMR shot. Since then, I haven’t even thought about shots. No cool scars. No vaccination pride.
But suddenly, vaccinations are back. A spike in flu shots led to a nearly nonexistent flu season. Sure, masks, social distancing, and far less travel likely contributed to the dramatic drop in cases, but let’s give flu shots some credit too.
And now, with the Covid-19 shot, vaccination pride is back too. I can tell you who among my friends has had one, and who’s had two. I know where and when they had their shots. I know all this about a lot of strangers, too, because they’re all posting about it on social media. At first, people were actually posting photos of their Covid cards online, until they realized these cards sometimes had personal info printed on them. So now it’s mostly photos of people getting their shots or simply exclaiming, “I got my shot!”
I know the feeling. A couple of weeks ago I got an email saying it was my turn. Apparently, breaking my arm last fall got me into the UC Health system and they had me on a list. All I had to do was pick a date and location. Could it really be that simple? I showed up at the big building on Pikes Peak Avenue at the appointed time and stood in a long line with a bunch of other folks. We chatted about the past year, what we’d been through and what we were hoping for in the coming months. For many, it was our first in-person social interaction in more than a year. People were happy to be there. Happy and proud, like we were doing something for ourselves, but also for each other. Like it was our civic duty. That felt good. The line moved quickly and before I knew it, I was in a booth. Those medical people sure knew what they were doing because I didn’t feel a thing. This time, I didn’t cry.
A few days ago, I went for a hike up in Jefferson County. The snowy trail was boot-packed for the first few miles, thanks to hikers who’d visited the area since the last big snowfall. But two miles and 1,000 feet below the summit, the packed trail disappeared. Determined to make it to the top, I slogged on, breaking trail through the heavy knee-deep snow. Approaching the final trail junction, I was hopeful that someone else had come up by another route and broken trail for the last mile, but no luck. With nine switchbacks to go, I trudged on. Minutes later, a woman fell in behind me.
“Hey, did you follow my tracks?” I asked her.
“Nope,” she said, “I broke trail from the other route.”
“Wow, good for you,” I said, “My trail disappeared at 8,700 feet.”
“Yep,” she said, “Mine too, and I’m 71 years old.”
That stopped me in my tracks. “You must have had your Covid shot,” I said, jokingly. She laughed and said she’d had two Moderna shots.
“Well that explains it,” I said, “I got my first Pfizer this week. So I guess we’re both just full of pith and vinegar, eh?” Except I didn’t say pith.
“Yeah, guess we are.”
She hiked behind me for a while longer, the trail climbing steeply, the snow growing deeper. Then she decided to turn around. “I need to get back,” she said, “But I appreciate you breaking trail up here.” Sure, I told her, any time. Have a safe hike out.
She pulled down her mask and smiled. “Things are going to get better, you know,” she said. Then she was gone. I kept going, on and up to the summit. I felt good and strong. And proud. Like one of the big kids, again.
This blog first appeared as a column in the March 30, 2021 Gazette Woodmen Edition.