I don’t remember the whole story — I was young, and it was a long time ago — but I remember as a kid being told that people (like me) who’d had eczema could never get the smallpox vaccine, because instead of developing an immunity they would get smallpox from it. Therefore, since proof of smallpox vaccination was needed to travel internationally, I could not leave the USA. I didn’t really have international travel on my radar as a second grader — people weren’t telling me this to keep me from trying to leave the country or anything, it was just another piece of allergy folklore, passed like “whisper down the alley” from my allergist to my parents to me, and dumbed down for childhood consumption. But here in the present, fifty or more years later, I was wondering just how much of this I understood and remembered correctly…
According to Google, I pretty much had the story right: thanks to vaccinations, smallpox was eradicated in the USA and Europe before I was born. So even though I couldn’t get the vaccine — vaccinatus eczema was and is a real syndrome — I was pretty safe. To prevent its reintroduction and international spread generally, people crossing borders had to prove they were vaccinated against smallpox (as well as other diseases, like yellow fever). There was a huge push starting in the late 1960’s to finally wipe out smallpox, and it was declared eradicated worldwide by 1980, and as of January 1, 1982, smallpox was removed from the list of required vaccinations, which was about eight years before my first trip outside the USA.
This whole saga is why vaccine resistance rankles sometimes: Herd immunity is what protected me back then, even though I couldn’t be immune myself, and now people people come up with bogus reasons they “can’t” (won’t) be vaccinated, for things like measles, etc, as well as COVID, compromising the general immunity and putting those people who can’t be individually protected at risk — and the truth is none of us are wholly protected even by a vaccine: herd immunity, starving the pandemic to death, is the only way to really be safe.
All of which us to say, I got my second jab of the Phizer vaccine on Friday. I felt a bit headachey, tired and out-of-sorts Friday and Saturday, but I’m not sure if it was the vaccine or just seasonal allergies. I’m feeling pretty spry now though, and just waiting for my superpowers to kick in.