By Melissa Cole, Curator
I recently joined my fellow Gen Xers and received my first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. When my age category was announced, I was eager to get my name on a list and get my vaccine appointment booked. I admit to feeling a bit of anxiety, mainly due to the media. There is a lot of controversy about the vaccine and that 1 out of 100,000 people may experience a blood clot. Yes, I could be that one person, and many friends also expressed the same concerns. Fortunately, I received my vaccine early and was able to share my experience with them after receiving my first dose. Hopefully this helped them with their decision. I did feel a bit sluggish the next day and had a slight headache for a few days.
My decision came down to doing my part, outweighing the risks and protecting my family, especially my 13-year-old daughter who is not currently eligible for the vaccine. I also spoke with my family doctor as that is who I booked my vaccine appointment with at the Oshawa Clinic.
This makes my wonder about the experiences of individuals that lived through past pandemics in our community such as the 1918 Flu and smallpox. What decisions did they have to make to contribute to limiting the spread of a virus in their community?
Vaccines were not available for the 1918 flu pandemic. Control efforts worldwide were limited to isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings. Vaccines were available for small pox, and when a mild strain of smallpox hit Oshawa in early November 1919, the Board of Health ordered all should be vaccinated. Provincial Chief Officer of Health John McCullough ordered all civil servants to receive shots.1
This information is what we know from researching local newspapers and provincial/county health records. But these records do not always tell you what the average person was experiencing during the 1918 flu and smallpox pandemic. How did people feel about the vaccination for small pox in 1919?
COVID-19 has reinforced my perspective on impactful historical events and how they are told in the historical record. Living through this pandemic reinforces that the history of the individuals involved in a large event are just as important as the history of the event itself. Although we are all living through this pandemic together, how we are dealing with it and the challenges that we face changes from person to person. These are the stories that allow for connections that contribute to a better understanding of our history.
If you are interested in sharing your COVID-19 experience with us and ensuring history reflects those individuals living through this pandemic in Oshawa, you can learn more about our project here:
The Globe, November 8, 1919. Editorial.