February 13, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | West Long Branch, NJ
A bitter wind cuts through the campus as I arrive for tonight’s screening at Monmouth University. So the crowd that turns out at Pollak Theatre is small if engaged. I’m joined on stage after the screening by Dean Janet Mahoney, Dr. Kathy Maloney, and Dr. Rose Knapp, all holding impressive credentials as educators and healthcare providers alike, each acutely aware of the impact vaccination has had, and continues to have, on human health. Before I even arrive on campus, Dean Mahoney notes that she “was one of those young students standing in line receiving the polio vaccine in the sugar cube” in an era just after polio had run rampant through our summers taking young lives and limbs with it.
The audience discussion revolves largely around the many vaccines Dr. Hilleman worked on, those he might have developed could he have continued research through retirement, and those that are most important to college student populations today. There are questions about safety, about necessity. “If we’re not seeing these diseases anymore, why do we need the vaccines?”
Dr. Maloney addresses the question with a sobering story from her own experience. Recently, a student she knew had contracted meningitis, a potentially lethal infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. The student had had her meningitis vaccine when she was in her early teens, but hadn’t yet received the booster dose recommended around the time one enters college. Within a very short time the infection claimed her young life. Just like that, she had fallen victim to a deadly infection, an infection that could have been avoided with the prick of a needle. The room falls silent.
We regain our composure when an older gentleman in the audience remembers his own experience of getting a vaccine that left a scar on his upper arm. Dr. Knapp nods, “Smallpox.” “Is that still given?” the man asks. She shakes her head. “We don’t have to give that vaccine any more because it wiped out the disease. Smallpox is gone from the face of the earth.” The statement recalls Dean Mahoney’s sugar cube, and how we now stand on the verge of eradicating polio from the face of the earth, an accomplishment that would retire yet another vaccine once and for all.
Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell