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UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
PHYSICIAN REMEMBERS THE TRAGEDIES
OF VACCINE-PREVENTABLE DISEASE
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The following letter to the editor appeared in the
Spring/Summer 2000 issue of "NEEDLE TIPS and the Hepatitis B Coalition News."
I am one of the increasingly rare old-timers who lived during the pre-vaccination era. I am the second to the last
of thirteen siblings, five of whom died of vaccine-preventable diseases in infancy. Born to poor
immigrant parents, I remember well my mother's account of the causes of their deaths--three from "la tussa forte"
("tussa" derives from the same stem from which we get pertussis) and
two from "rosolia" (measles). Even after many years had passed, she spoke of these "morte d'angeli" (death of her
angels) with a great deal of emotion. Imagine losing not one, two, three, or
four, but five babies! It was common in the pre-vaccine era. Like our family,
many families lost several children to these diseases.
We forget. Time blurs our memories of these common tragedies of yesteryear.
I remember well, during the winter and spring of each year, hearing the whoop of pertussis in movie theaters, school
assemblies, and assorted gatherings. Today, few have ever heard this, and those who have, forget.
I remember the summer outbreaks of polio, the crippled children who could no
longer walk or walked with limb-distorted limps. As a third- and fourth-year
medical student, I remember answering the appeals of hospital administrators
who could not find the nursing staff for special duty tending to the needs of
polio patients in "iron lungs." We forget.
I remember the awful cases of measles my own children experienced. I remember the children with smallpox during
the years my family lived in Pakistan. I remember those who lost their sight from lesions in their eyes. I
remember those who died. We forget.
In memory of all of them, I commend IAC and others who share "Unprotected People" stories to remind those who have
been spared these tragedies that most of these illnesses are still a threat. And, they can be prevented. Easily.
Thank you for promoting vaccines in such a unique way--by telling the stories
of the vaccine-preventable disease tragedies. So people won't forget.
E.J. (Gene) Gangarosa, MD, MS
Department of International Health
ABOUT THE "UNPROTECTED PEOPLE" SERIES:
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) has published this story for the purpose of making it available for our
readers' review. We have not verified the story's content, for which the author is solely responsible. The views
reflected in this story are the writer's and do not necessarily reflect the position of IAC.
To read "Unprotected People" stories that were previously published in IAC EXPRESS, visit:
DO YOU KNOW OF STORIES THAT CAN HELP SAVE LIVES?
IAC is collecting stories of people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases. Please let us know
if you have personal stories, or if you know of stories that have appeared in the media, that describe the
suffering that occurred because someone wasn't immunized. In addition, we are also collecting case reports to help us
illustrate the morbidity and mortality caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
If you have stories or case reports that can help save lives, e-mail them to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or fax them to