(p. A15) Members of my own family have . . . chosen not to vaccinate their children against measles, even as my mother laments that the measles vaccine didn’t arrive in time for Sissy, as Maura was known in our family. She recently told me that she wishes she had found a way to enroll Sissy in the measles-vaccine trial, which involved 50,000 children over several years in the early 1960s.
. . .
Until the vaccine, the only way to gain immunity to measles was to contract the disease. Sissy was exposed as an infant when my brothers caught it, but the case wasn’t severe enough to give her immunity. “She’ll have to get the shot when it’s available,” the family pediatrician, Dr. George Herman, told my mother.
Why did it take so long for that to happen? Culturing the virus from the blood serum of young David Edmondston, and then weakening or “attenuating” it enough for a vaccine, was no easy feat. “The hardest vaccine to make is a live, attenuated vaccine,” said Dr. Offit. He would know: It took him and fellow virologists 26 years to develop a safe and effective vaccine against rotavirus, which can cause potentially fatal diarrhea in infants. “It is all trial and error. Nine years is fast,” Dr. Offit said.
It wasn’t fast enough for Sissy.
. . .
The Kansas City Times ran a short obituary. The paper asked my parents if they wanted to report the cause of death, and my mother said yes, “so that other parents would know to get the vaccine when it was available.”
A few pages away was an article headlined “O.K. on Measles Vaccine; Two Forms Released by Government and Surgeon General Predicts a Sharp Drop in the Disease Next Season.” “This is one of our most significant advances toward decreasing or eliminating one of our most serious childhood diseases,” said U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry. An editorial in the paper on the vaccine news concluded, “The disease and its sometimes tragic consequences are on the way out with other ancient plagues.”
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(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the essay has the March 23, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)