by Trish Parnell


Trish ParnellI know the value of vaccination because I’ve seen it in action.

When the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit, there was no vaccine immediately available to prevent infection. The virus was hard on teenagers—in our town, the middle schools and highs schools were half empty for weeks that winter. We’d never seen anything like it.

We began to hear about deaths among healthy adolescents, and my heart fluttered. My daughters were the right age. Or more appropriately, the wrong age.

At the time, I was sitting on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee. Our meetings and communications were full of news about this virus, those affected, and the development of a vaccine to prevent infection.

I imagine that my fear was fed by the fact that for months, all we talked about at work and on the committee was this virus. But I don’t know. Parents are going to worry about their kids and for most of us, there’s no such thing as too much worry. It’s just what we do.

My oldest fell ill. She was sicker than she’d ever been in her short life and I was scared.

The same week, the vaccine for the virus was finally in our community, but finding it was not easy.

We had to call a hotline to get locations and times when it would be available, but there wasn’t much of it. By the time we heard about a place that had the vaccine, there were no more doses to be had. That scenario repeated itself four or five times.

I was on the hunt because my younger daughter wasn’t infected—yet.

Finally our luck held and if we could get to the clinic by 4:00 that afternoon, I could get her vaccinated.

Without exaggeration, I can tell you that we started running. We ran to the car, sped to the clinic, and ran inside to her physician’s office. There was a line of people checking in for appointments, so I semi-shouted at the staff behind the check-in desk, asking if we were in time for the vaccine.

They huddled. They murmured. They left to fetch someone who might know. Finally, they said: third floor.

More running, nearly knocking over someone with a walker, profuse apologies (said on the run), and within moments, she was vaccinated.

My youngest didn’t have a flicker of flu that season. At least half of her classmates were not so lucky.

Around the world, as more vaccine was made and distributed, the incidence of infection dropped.

If you ask me what is the value of vaccination? Be prepared to have a seat. I have hundreds of stories crowded into my head about this topic.