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  1. Life & Culture

A ‘Double Shot’ of vaccine love is playing in his head

The soundtrack of a hopeful future is playing from the writer’s past.
Syringes sit next to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a popup site in the Queens borough of New York.
Syringes sit next to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a popup site in the Queens borough of New York. [ MARY ALTAFFER ]
Published Apr. 1
Updated Apr. 1

On Feb. 26, my wife and I drove onto the campus of St. Leo University in Pasco County for our second shot of the Moderna vaccine. The first shot, a month earlier, was easy. We were on the campus and then off again in about 30 minutes.

Getting the second shot took a little longer, about an hour. It began on the end of two parallel lines of cars, each about 25 vehicles long. We inched our way to a check-in station where a member of the National Guard examined our IDs and appointment cards.

About 15 minutes later we were on the ground floor of a parking garage, sticking our arms out the windows of our Toyota RAV4. A nurse named Rudolfo delivered my shot, right under the anchor tattoo on my right shoulder with the word HOPE.

We felt different. Better. Later in the day, we felt sore at the spot of the injection. The next day, Saturday, we felt a little worse, and then even worse. Headaches, body aches, fatigue, chills and fevers of 101 degrees. We called it “flu for a day.”

I woke up at 3 a.m. The fever had broken. I said out loud, “Man, I feel great!”

The Swingin’ Medallions

I have always favored rock ‘n’ roll songs in which it sounds like people are partying in the background. Try not dancing to Quarter to Three by Gary U.S. Bonds. My favorite rave is Double Shot of My Baby’s Love, a frat-boy party song recorded in 1966 by a South Carolina group called the Swingin’ Medallions. As the lyrics insist: “It wasn’t wine that I had too much of, it was a double shot of my baby’s love.”

Two weeks after our double shot, we were pronounced fully vaccinated by Dr. Fauci. I find myself, full of Faucismo, sitting at my keyboard playing and singing Double Shot. I am getting psyched, imagining a hall full of dancers. The time is not here yet, I know. But I feel it more and more. I’ve got the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu. It’s almost time to party.

Thank you, Dr. Salk

Before there was Dr. Fauci, there was Dr. Jonas Salk. His name will be forever associated with the development of the vaccine that stopped the spread of polio beginning in the 1950s. It always occurred to me that Iron Lung might be a good name for a heavy metal band, but when I was a child, it was no laughing matter. It was a machine of nightmarish dread.

The fear of that crippling disease, paranoia about contagion in public swimming pools, classmates in braces and wheelchairs — these invaded the innocence of our childhood, at a time when we were also having duck and cover drills in case the Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb on top of St. Aidan Elementary School on Long Island.

We lived 20 miles from Manhattan in a village called Albertson, the home of what would become a world-famous school called Abilities Inc. At the encouragement of Eleanor Roosevelt, a man name Henry Viscardi became one of America’s greatest advocates for rights and resources for people with disabilities. Almost every day I would walk or ride my bike past Abilities, seeing all those children and adults, many with the effects of polio, looking for support.

Polio was never an abstraction. It was right there.

Everyone was always sick

We had huge classes in Catholic school, 62 kids in one classroom, sometimes more. There were always enough desks, though, because kids were at home sick and absent all the time.

When I was born in 1948, my mother kept a scrupulous record of my young life in a blue velveteen baby book. On a page marked “My Health Record,” Mom recorded dates for all my childhood illnesses and all my vaccinations, from birth through high school. In my first months of life, I received three injections for diphtheria and three more for whooping cough.

Then came the diseases for which there were no vaccines:

June, 1952: Measles

November, 1954: Mumps

March, 1955: Chicken pox

April, 1955: Rubella, or German measles

I have a good memory of my childhood, and remember being bedridden with all these diseases, one of the local doctors making “house calls.” So many of us baby boomers suffered through these diseases, it is no wonder that we were grateful to one day have our children vaccinated against them.

By 1955 I was in first grade, standing in a long line of students in the school cafeteria. The Salk vaccine had just come out. At the end of that line was a doctor or nurse (I don’t remember) who jabbed what looked like a long needle into our little arms. We were encouraged to be brave and sacrifice any pain for the “suffering souls in purgatory.”

One little girl, Julie Ann, would not make it to the end of the line. She passed out on a cafeteria table surrounded by adults from anxiety.

A Dr. Albert Sabin would one day replace fear of the needle with an oral vaccine, at times delivered via a sugar cube.

Why we love vaccines

As we walk around downtown or at the park or at the outdoor coffee shop — with our masks handy — we feel different. We believe in the science as I did even as a 7-year-old boy. Take the needle, kid, and you’ll never have to lie in an Iron Lung. And I never did.

We believe in the protective power of the vaccine and remain grateful to everyone who has worked so hard over the last year to get it into our arms. It’s now our job to help others overcome their hesitancy, to get in line and do the right thing, for themselves and the community.

Then will come the day when we can play Double Shot, crank up the volume and dance until we need hip replacement surgery.