I’m a mum. I’m busy. So far so cliched. I don’t know if it’s true but there are plenty of people who would argue that my generation of parents have more stress, more demands packed into our limited head space, than any before. We should be raising our kids with infinite attention to every aspect of their health and wellbeing while also ideally, blazing a feminist trail in at work, keeping fit, having a social life and engaging in some kind of creative pastime. It’s exhausting and it’s damn near impossible unless you have or can afford good help.
But you know what I don’t have to find space for in my ever buzzing brain?
My grandmothers’ generation could just send their kids out to play in the street all day. But they had to live with the very real chance that those children could be killed or paralysed by Polio.
My Mum didn’t have to figure out a strategy for keeping her five year old safe online, but she did have to nurse me and my sister through Measles.
Neither of those diseases gets a look in on my worry list, because my kids, and the vast majority of kids around them, are vaccinated. The last case of natural polio in the UK was nearly 35 years ago. Measles was almost wiped out in the UK in the early 90’s until the now disgraced work of Andrew Wakefield took its toll. But last year it was announced that England had a 95% vaccination rate for five year olds, enough to prevent the spread of any cases that do occur and get us declared officially measles-free.
But here’s the thing that does worry me, that, actually makes me feel genuinely sad: We don’t celebrate vaccination.
Global vaccination programs show us the very best of human achievement. Brilliant scientists in their labs, quarreling nations working together across fragile borders, individual nurses and volunteers trekking to every corner of our planet, sometimes risking their own lives. All of them working to save the lives of strangers’ children.
In the year my Mum was born there were 57,879 cases of polio in the USA alone. In 2009 when my first baby, her first grandchild, was born there was 1.
But that might be part of the problem. Few parent’s of my generation have first-hand experience of the diseases we are vaccinating our kids against. I vaguely remember measles but vaccination against it had begun by then and most people a bit younger than me would have been spared it. My only experience of polio is a few older people with a limp, I have nothing on diphtheria. To be honest, I had no idea what it was until an episode of Call The Midwife.
My generation of parents have had the luxury of never having to think about these diseases, we’ve never had to take action to cope with them, but we do have to take action to get our children vaccinated and doing something, even something we are told is good, can often be scarier than doing nothing. All the more so if you are taking action against a threat that seems vague and historical.
The current fantasy that nature is all knowing and ever benevolent doesn’t help. Viruses are natural, vaccines aren’t so where do they fit in with our organic produce wellness plans? A needle full of something man made can sound far scarier than a disease you’ve never encountered.
But our mothers and grandmothers and all the parents who came before us did encounter these things and all too often the result was tragic.
Knackered though we may be, we are an immensely privileged generation of parents, especially in developed countries. Vaccination and other developments in medical and food science have freed us from many of the worries of the past. So wouldn’t it be nice if just occasionally we could take a bit of time off from all the other worries we’ve replaced them with, from all the bemoaning of modern life and the perils of technology and just celebrate this one, amazing, human achievement?
Perhaps with a nice glass of sherry, and a weekend in Llandudno, My Gran would have liked that.