TRUE STORIES — Giving it our best shot

J.T. Knoll
Residents of Protection, Kansas gather in the high school gym to receive the polio vaccine in 1957.

Linda and I received our second dose of Moderna mRNA-1273 coronavirus vaccine on March 4th so we’re under a week away from being 94.1% immune.

We got ours sitting in the front seat of our Trusty Pathfinder in the Crawford Co. Health Dept. parking lot with Arlo the Labradorian hanging his head out the back window for moral support. Both times it was a breeze — we were there and gone within half an hour.

It got me thinking about getting shots when we were kids. Back in the 1950s, mom had to load us up and drive to Pittsburg, find a space, feed the parking meter, and herd us up the creaky wooden stairs to Dr. Wood’s office above the KRESS store at 7th and Broadway.

I remember one time they had to chase my brother, Steve, who had a serious case of needle anxiety, to the stairway and wrangle him back when he found out he’d have to get a shot. (Ironically, after high school he went on to nursing school at Mt. Carmel and was soon practicing giving shots by administering them to oranges in the kitchen.)

The practice of immunization dates back hundreds of years. Buddhist monks drank snake venom to confer immunity to snake bite, and variolation (smearing of a skin tear with cowpox to confer immunity to smallpox) was practiced in 17th century China.

Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the West. In 1796, he inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with vaccinia virus (cowpox), and demonstrated immunity to smallpox.

When I was a kid, the fear of contracting polio was much the same as the fear of getting Covid-19 is now. March of Dimes collection cards with dime slots were on business counters beside the cash registers and were handed out in schools for kids to take around the neighborhood to help fund research.

It worked. It was the March of Dimes that funded the development of the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, and launched an immunization campaign that eliminated polio from the United States by 1979.

I found an NPR article online by Jim McClean about how, in 1957, the residents of Protection, a tiny town in southwestern Kansas, dressed in their Sunday best and lined up in the high school gym to set a public health example by being the first town in the nation to be fully inoculated against polio.

These days things are different. The people in Protection, like those in many rural communities, stand widely divided about taking the coronavirus vaccine; some look forward to it much the same as in 1957 while others believe that the federal government invented it to be able to insert a microchip into their bodies to track their movements. Others are having a lot of anxiety about possible side effects because of its rapid development.

Speaking of anxiety, even though there was pretty much full acceptance of the science that said it was safe and necessary, there was plenty of the getting-stuck-with-a-needle anxiety in the air in the 1950s when the polio vaccine was rolled out across the country and grade schoolers were being herded into gymnasiums and cafeterias to line up for their shots.

Back to the present, hereabouts the apprehension about the spread of the virus is beginning to drop, as evidenced in the notification I received this week that the total lockdown has been lifted at Medicaloges in Pittsburg and I can now visit (by scheduling in advance) my mother for the first time in a year.

Next thing you know they’ll be lifting the restriction on the Thursday morning sing-a-long at Medicalodges Frontenac and I can return to belting out songs and being silly with my friends, the residents, and staff.

Getting back to my wife and I taking the Moderna mRNA-1273, prior to the second shot a friend cautioned us that, although his wife’s second dose caused very few physical side effects, it seemed to greatly amplify all her behaviors that he finds most aggravating.

With that in mind my wife and I monitored one another closely over the two days following our second shot … and came to the same conclusion. The things that aggravate us about one another stayed about the same.

Realizing this, as we walked with Arlo around Playter’s Lake on a balmy afternoon last week, we a shared spontaneous giggle — after which Linda called to mind one of our favorite Pot-Shots by Ashleigh Brilliant, “As long as I have you ... I can endure all the troubles you inevitably bring.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or