street scene West African village 1968

image: West African village 1968. Photographer HpBob. Image via Wikimedia

|| 20 December 2020

Vaccination Demonstration Memories

The recent media coverage of Vice-President Pence and his wife receiving an injection of Covid vaccine to encourage Americans to be vaccinated brought memories of my Peace Corps days in West Africa. Then, the US team for the Smallpox and Measles Eradication Program would sometimes use me for a demonstration in a remote village to encourage the residents to accept vaccination.

The “gun” that delivered the dual inoculation in one shot was a scary-looking device. Even to me who had received a multitude of vaccinations via needle for protection during my Peace Corps service.

The first time I experienced the vaccination with the steel inoculation gun, I was surprised how relatively painless it was. So I was agreeable to help the team. They assured me that I could take the vaccination multiple times without problems.

The routine after the team set up their equipment in a village was that one of the African team members who spoke the local language would explain the benefits of being vaccinated for smallpox and measles. The diseases were still widespread in the region. Next, some talk of the procedure and what could be expected when vaccinated. Then the demonstration: a spot on my upper arm would get a quick swab with alcohol, the gun placed against the spot. Click. The villagers craning their necks forward in anticipation, expecting me drop dead — or at least writhe in agonizing pain. But neither. Just a bandaid placed on the injection spot. And I would say a few words to give reassurance that there was little pain and I felt just fine.

Then an older woman would push forward — always a woman to come forward first. She would glare at me with a look that said, “I can do this too, Yovo (foreigner).” She would stick out her arm and receive the shot from the gun. Click. Then a look of surprise on her face. The shot really was not painful. Next she got her bandaid, a badge of honor. After that it was easy to get the rest of the village vaccinated. They wanted those bandaids.

Remembering that time in West Africa more than 50 years ago, I find it interesting that today the same technique is being used to encourage reluctant Americans to be vaccinated.

be chic, stay slim, stay safe — Anne Barone