Linda Ellison Jessup: Vaccination: The time is now | SteamboatToday.com
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Linda Ellison Jessup: Vaccination: The time is now

I am writing this article as I await a very important birth. (Aren’t they all?) This tiny newborn will be the fourth grandchild for my husband and me but the first child for my 33-year-old son and his radiant wife.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am also a woman in my 70’s, experiencing the development of Post-Polio Syndrome. These late effects of polio now require me to use a cane to walk in order to help support damaged back, neck, arm and leg muscles, along with a Bi-PAP machine which assists my also weakened diaphragm to keep me breathing at night.

These last few days as we wait, we are all “expectant.” Birth is always miraculous, full of hope and wishes for an abundant life for this baby and his parents. Overlying everything else, however, we feel a powerful sense of protectiveness and responsibility for this next generation.



But as we wait, hope, and dream, culture wars are raging in our society for today’s parents. A battle over whether to vaccinate according to the medically recommended vaccination schedule, to select certain vaccinations and reject those for “old diseases” like diphtheria and polio, or not to vaccinate at all. The warriors in these battles have the best of intentions and actually share a common goal — that of ensuring the safety and robust good health of their children. How best to accomplish this goal is the issue.

A growing number of unvaccinated young people in the U.S. are at risk for some serious diseases. But these children also pose a danger — not only to highly susceptible infants, too young to immunize — but also to people of all ages who are immune-deficient, along with anyone receiving chemo-therapy.



Both the current battle and its ultimate outcome have momentous consequences that will affect our population, and even our world, for years to come.

I unwittingly enlisted in this vaccination battle in 1950, when I transformed overnight from a super-active 9 year old, to a child deathly ill with polio. I experienced temperatures of 104 degrees for days and paralysis of my upper right and lower left sides for months. Quarantined at home through the acute illness, full recovery took about two years and a lot of painful therapy.

In 1967, as an arriving Peace Corps nurse in Arequipa, Peru, I was catapulted into the Health Department’s fight against a serious typhoid outbreak in the barriada where I was living. A few months later, we again leapt into action with a whooping cough outbreak that killed an uncounted number of infants and young children, despite our best round-the-clock efforts.

Vaccination campaigns became a high priority during those two years in Peru and were welcomed by the largely Quechua and Aymara Indian population of the barriada and surrounding community. As a result of these experiences I have no illusions about epidemics.

This current period of time reminds me a lot of the 1960’s, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley, with all the questioning and distrust of “authority.” Some of this skepticism is, of course, justified. Who and what can be trusted? I have learned to depend upon doing my due diligence and finding reliable sources that have stood the tests of time.

Five years ago, I joined a local Rotary club in Loveland, Colorado, because of Rotary International’s 27-year commitment, $1.2 billion investment and boots-on-the-ground immunization efforts to eradicate polio. These immunization efforts have made a great difference. Fewer than 450 polio cases were reported worldwide in 2013, a 99% reduction since the 1980’s when the world saw almost 1,000 cases a day. But if these efforts are not continued, epidemiologists project that polio could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years.

In the last three years our District 5440 Polio Committee has produced three 10-minute YouTube videos, including Polio and the Vaccination Crisis and one 25-minute video about polio-related topics. All provide useful information and can be found by going to http://www.youtube.com and searching for “Faces of Polio in the USA.” Also visit http://www.endpolio.org to learn more and help Rotary celebrate World Polio Day October 24.

Today we nervously watch yet another epidemic, the horrific explosion of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa. Like polio, Ebola is also a deadly enterovirus, spread in some of the same ways and highly contagious. Unfortunately for us all, no vaccine yet exists for Ebola. Would we, as world citizens, be safer with a vaccine?

What is the legacy each of us wants to leave our grandchildren? The time to decide is now.

Linda Ellison Jessup is a resident of Loveland, CO and a member of the Loveland Rotary Club. She has her B.S. in Nursing from the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco and her Masters of Public Health from U.C. Berkley. She was one of the first six Family Nurse Practitioners in the U.S. and is a former Peace Corps Volunteer.


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