Peer Pressure Helped Inoculations

Recently, while eating lunch at a local sandwich place, where if you eat their sandwiches you are suppose to get skinny, I overheard a group of homeroom mothers discussing their children’s school vaccinations at a table behind me. Realizing that my sandwich wasn’t making me skinny, I decided to listen in on the ladies’ conversation about needles and shots, which was a lot more interesting than reading the nutrient content of my Cheetos bag, which had become empty. Stories about kids hiding under tables and doctors getting bit seemed to be very funny to that group, but having been a kid myself about 50 years ago and experiencing some of those same traumatic events, I was glad I had finished my weight reducing sandwich as I reflected back on my days when the health department nurse would show up at school.

Those ladies were even talking about the option of if you should vaccinate your child or not. Back when I was going to school there were no options. We all got stuck whether we wanted to or not. Plus, so many times we got stuck while standing in a line with a bunch of other kids who also didn’t want to get stuck, but had to. We didn’t have our mothers close by or even the option of a nice doctor’s office with pull-out white paper to sit on. Sometimes we did go to the local health department, but most of the time the inoculations occurred right in the school where we were hemmed up and couldn’t get away. And that word “inoculation” to a small child is something that could send terror through an entire student body on the day they would be given. The words inoculations and electrocutions could have been used interchangeably for us, because on the day the health department nurse showed up, it was like being walked to the electric chair.

They always gave our shots (that’s what we called them, “shots”), in the Home Economics classroom. I guess because it was the cleanest room and had running water in our small school of 300-plus students of grades 1 through 12. On shot day they would march us in a line through the auditorium to the Home Ec room. As you would enter the auditorium, the smell of rubbing alcohol already filled the air and you could see other kids coming from their encounter with disease prevention rubbing their arms.
As you walked into the “shot room” you could see the health nurse in her all-white uniform and nurse’s hat standing at the end of a table covered with a white table cloth. There in front of her were white enamel pans trimmed in black containing silver and glass instruments to be used to administer the inoculations. The needles alone could puncture an auto tire and the bottles of medicine were dark brown and held enough serum to cure the world of a plague. There was no talking. Just the nurse saying, “Next!”
I was always placed between kids who had been held back a couple grades and milked cows on farms around the community. They were so tough the needles would bend as it touched their arms and they would laugh at how cold the alcohol felt when it cleaned a spot for the shot. As a kid, I was skinny and pale. I always thought the shot would go through my arm or something, but being placed between the tough guys, I would accept whatever came my way. I don’t even remember Band-Aids back in those days. We were so frightened that our blood slowed down and there was no bleeding involved.
After the shot, we marched back to class and waited until recess to tell each other our horror stories of how bad the inoculation was. No one died, passed out or bit anyone. Peer pressure kept you from it. That was the good kind of peer pressure. And, we all stayed pretty much disease free.
As I listened to those ladies discuss the options of not getting inoculations and the many fears they expressed about all the side effects from taking the injections, I wondered what our parents really thought about those many years ago when they sent us to school to meet the health nurse. I think they were more concerned with the dangers of the diseases which they knew first hand of, than the rare chances of the side effects which they knew very little about.  
I’m just glad to have lived in a time when there was a way to prevent the diseases and that I was placed between those tough guys when the health nurse came to school.          
 – Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at