Boomers Got Vaccinated

In January of 2019, a national health emergency was declared by Washington related to a measles outbreak. The disease was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, due to five decades of routine vaccinations, but as of this date nearly 400 cases have been reported in fifteen states. All of those states allow for refusal to get vaccinated based on personal or religious beliefs.

This situation brought Mister Boomer back to the boomer years, when vaccines were a routine step for school-aged children. When it comes to vaccinations for boomers, our parents were whole-heartedly in favor of having their children vaccinated: They lived through decades of horrible diseases, and, by the time World War II arrived, the prevailing thought of the country was to trust science and get on with finding cures. Mister Boomer feels this was particularly prompted by the scourge of polio that gripped the world into the 1940s. Traced back as far as Ancient Egypt, polio was a crippling disease that inflicted tens of thousands of children each year. Some surmise the Tiny Tim character had polio in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. For the parents of boomers, though, it was the fact that their president — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — had what was believed to be polio in his late teen years. He covered up his increasing inability to walk by holding himself up at sturdy podiums and the Secret Service was diligent in seeing that there were no photos taken of him in a wheelchair.

In 1937, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes), specifically with the intent of producing a vaccine for polio. The parents of boomers recall that schoolchildren of their generation sent dimes to the White House, doing their part in the search for a cure. Perhaps that is the reason that Roosevelt’s portrait is on the ten cent coin? Boomers will also recall how, each March, teachers were each given a cardboard sign that had slots for dimes in them. The teacher would remind children to ask for a dime from their parents. One by one, children could approach the sign on the teacher’s desk and slide their dime into the cardboard slot.

Roosevelt didn’t live long enough to see the development of a vaccine for polio. There was an epidemic outbreak of polio in the U.S. in 1952. Parents were keeping their children from public places such as municipal swimming pools, as a near-national hysteria added pressure to quickly release a vaccine. Dr. Jonas Salk was given a patent for his vaccination in 1955. It quickly became standard for all boomer children to get the vaccine. Today many scientists are suggesting that FDR did not have polio at all, but probably Guillain-Barre Syndrome. No matter which, by the mid-50s, boomer children were being vaccinated against smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. It is more than likely the smallpox vaccination that gives boomers of a certain age that circular scar on their arm. The last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977. The U.S. stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, and the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. No cases of polio have been reported in the U.S. since 1979.

The 1960s saw more advances in vaccinations for boomers. Vaccines for measles were being tested as far back as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1963 when an effective version was released to the public. Vaccinations for mumps followed in 1967, and rubella in 1969. The three were combined into one vaccine in 1970.

Mister Boomer’s family was inoculated with all the vaccinations that were available at the time, but Mister Boomer and his brother had both measles and chicken pox in the early 1960s before the measles vaccine was released. The brothers spent a week suffering the relentless itching and light sensitivity that comes with it, prompting them to be quarantined to their bedroom, with drapes drawn, while all the neighborhood kids were out enjoying the summer sun. Fortunately, both brothers recovered without any ill effects; on average there were 450 deaths due to measles reported each year in the decade 1953 to 1963, the year when the vaccine was first given.

How about you, boomers? Do you have a vaccination scar on your arm? Did your family talk about vaccinations?

Boomers Greeted 1969 With Hope and Trepidation

Fifty years ago, in January of 1969, the country was still reeling from the previous year. 1968 would forever be remembered as a tumultuous year, marked by violence, assassinations and an escalation of the war, mixed with hopes of peace and prosperity. A new president was elected and about to be sworn in, but his very presence divided the nation, in no small part along the Generation Gap of young and old. Television, the national highway system and an expanding economy all led to a widening of the Gap. This gave rise to the opening of the first The Gap retail store in 1969, in San Francisco, California. The store catered to boomers with a limited, but highly discounted, inventory of clothing that would appeal to the boomer generation; chief among the items was Levi’s jeans. Blue jeans had become the de facto uniform of the Boomer Generation. Jeans represented a break from the constraints of earlier generations, and exemplified the freedoms cherished by boomers to do what they wanted, when they wanted, dressed as they wanted. While not every boomer was in the streets protesting “Tricky Dick” in their blue jeans, the mistrust boomers had for the incoming president, especially when it came to Vietnam, turned out to be well warranted.

Here are some of the events that marked that month, fifty years ago:

January 5: The Space Race continued to heat up with the Soviet Union launching two space probes to Venus within a few days of each other, Venera 5 and Venera 6. The intention was that both crafts would arrive at Venus one day apart in order to cross-calibrate data collection of the planet’s atmosphere and surface before being disabled by heat or crushed by pressure. Venera 5 descended at a faster rate than Venera 6, broadcasting data for only 53 minutes, thus dooming the main goal of the mission.

January 12: Led Zeppelin released their first album in the United States. Featuring songs with titles like, Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown, boomers were immediately on board.

January 14: Lyndon Johnson gave his final State of the Union address before Congress. He only had one week left in his presidency, so it turned out to be his farewell speech to the people of the United States. He highlighted some of his accomplishments during his five-year tenure, including the passing of the Voting Rights Act (1964) and the creation of Medicare (1965). He mentioned that the unemployment rate, as 1969 began, was sitting at 3.3% and spoke of his hope for peace in Vietnam. He also spoke about the need for Social Security to keep up with the times, and urged a raise of “at least 13%” for the nation’s seniors on the program. Johnson also mentioned that though a new administration would be taking over, it did not mean a dismissal of the issues and challenges that faced his administration. On that front, he wished his successor well on behalf of the American people.

January 15: The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5 with the intention of docking with Soyuz 4, which was launched a few days earlier, and in orbit. The spacecrafts were manned and became the first ever to dock in space. Cosmonauts on board became the first ever to transfer from one craft to the other via a spacewalk before both vehicles headed back to Earth.

January 20: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States.

January 22: An assassination attempt on Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev failed. An army deserter, Victor Ilyn, fired shots at Brezhnev’s motorcade, killing a driver and injuring several cosmonauts who were riding with Brezhnev in the motorcade. Ilyin was captured and, while facing the death penalty, was declared insane. He was placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital for twenty years.

January 26: Elvis began recording what turned out to be his comeback album at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Among the songs that became hits from the sessions were, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.

January 28: A massive oil spill from an off-shore well occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It caused the closing of the harbor as oil leached onto the beaches. It was the first oil spill that was ever given coverage on TV as images of sludge-covered seals and sea birds reached into homes across the country. Historians say this event galvanized the people of the state and marked the beginning of state — and later, national — environmental legislation. The disaster inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson (Democrat, Wisconsin) to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Long a proponent of conservation issues, Senator Nelson wanted Earth Day to be a grass-roots effort by the people, with the goal of making the nation’s city, state and national governments aware of environmental issues.

January 30: The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios in London. After a few songs, including Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, noise complaints from nearby office buildings brought the police to the roof to shut the impromptu concert down. The 42-minute show was filmed and recorded with two eight-track machines in the basement, five floors below, and became the basis of the Let It Be film and album in 1970.

Nixon was sworn in as president, the Space Race was going full tilt, and the Vietnam War raged on. The Beatles played on a rooftop, and Led Zeppelin hit the shores of the U.S. Fifty years ago, the month of January was a momentous beginning to what would prove to be yet another historic year in the lives of boomers.

What event from January of 1969 looms large in your memory, boomers?