Remembering the time before…

One year ago today,  a global pandemic was declared due to COVID 19. Having lived during the time of the polio virus, I became interested in comparing these two viruses and have written a number of blogs on the subject which are archived on my website.

As well as many similarities, there are also some striking differences. One of these differences being the time it took to produce a vaccine then as compared to today. There  was no vaccine available within a year’s time for polio, as we have for COVID 19 today. In fact, it took many years before a vaccine was available, never mind three to help immunize all those  desperately wanting their children to be protected.

Of course there were different attempts,  none of which worked. In fact some even caused polio. It was a race like today to develop a safe vaccine that worked. The two men in the race were Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Sabin (A Russian scientist living in the United States). Dr. Salk’s vaccine  was the first to be developed.

On April 12,1955, the long wait was finally over. It was a day of celebration when the Salk vaccine  was declared safe and effective. And Dr. Jonas Salk became a hero. Unfortunately, 13 days later, what came to be known as the Cutter Incident happened.

Up to this point, Dr. Salk and trusted assistants tested every batch of vaccine, but with so many wanting to be vaccinated immediately, this was no longer possible. As a result, other laboratories were hired to help. Unfortunately, the American vaccine manufacturers rushed it to the public without enough government control and two batches were improperly manufactured by Cutter Laboratories, leaving some  live virus  in the vaccine. Some got polio as a result. Some even died. Immediately, all vaccinating was stopped. Dr. Salk was devastated, although it wasn’t his fault. The procedure for making the vaccine simply had not be carefully followed. His vaccine had been tested more carefully than any other drug at the time, and none of the 400,000 children vaccinated during the field trial had become sick.  After this terrible incident, the United States Health Services introduced stricter rules, and there were no more problems.

Today in the news there was some mention of concern of blood clots being caused by the latest  COVID 19 vaccine, AstraZeneca out of Oxford University. So some countries have stopped using it until it is further tested. Although everyone has been waiting on a safe, effective vaccine for COVID 19, the number of vaccines developed recently in a short time has been quite amazing. Of course, modern technology has been a major factor. Still, it is critical that we use great care in making sure each vaccine  is not only effective, but it is also critically important that each one is tested and also proven safe.

Everyone is hoping this day will be the beginning of the end of this pandemic. We are all deeply saddened by the many lost lives, not to mention the devastation to our economy. But we must hang in there, and do our part by continuing to follow the rules laid out to help protect us and see us through this hopefully final stage.

We owe so much to our front line workers for what they have given up for us. Next time you meet such a person, why not take a minute to show your appreciation. They have helped us through this far, and have sometimes put their own lives as well as those of their families on the line. I call that being a hero/heroine!



Antonio Downing- author interview celebrating Black History Month

Recently, I had the  pleasure of participating virtually in an author interview event, which was presented in partnership by Wordsworth Books  and the Waterloo Public Library.

The guest of the evening was  Antonio Downing,  musician, author  and song writer. Although born in Trinidad, Antonio told his audience that he has lived in the K/W area longer than any place in his life.  He credits coaches for helping him fit in while going to school here, both  in  high school and at the University of Waterloo, where he attended

His grandmother brought him up until she died when he was just twelve. He spoke fondly of her and how she had influenced his life. He still remembers hymns which he learned while on his grandma’s lap. It is so sad that he was uprooted, especially at such an early age.  He and his brother were  sent to a small northern community in a foreign land-Canada, to live with a stern aunt.  The fact that  he and his brother were the only kids of colour in town made life even harder.

At one point he reunited with his parents which was another disappointment in his life, so he went on his own attempting to transform himself by music and performing, trying every form of music including, pop, rock, punk and  rap.  He even tried to be a soul crooner in an attempt to made himself somebody he wasn’t.

Today, Antonio is a successful musician, song writer and author,  He plays numerous kinds of instruments and still enjoys many types of music not only jazz and soul.

In his latest book, a memoir entitled, Saga Boy, My Life of Blackness and Becoming, he speaks of the evils of colonialism. The picture on the cover of Saga Boy is  the back of a black child’s head. This speaks volumes about how the child thinks of himself.

During the interview, Antonio made the  profound statement that you have to make peace with your past before you can plan your future. He knows this to be true because it was not until he was forced  to finally face his true self,  that he was able to finally reclaim his heritage and blackness.

Antonio has written two books: Molasses and Saga Boy.  When asked what message he wants to leave regarding writing,  his response was , “Write your own story. Be yourself. Don’t let someone else write your story. You don’t need to impress others. Just impress yourself.”

He also said while writing, if you get stuck, don’t force the answer. Leave your work for awhile.  It is during that time away, that the problem gets solved. And as a fellow writer, I know this to be true.

During the interview, it was obvious that he was comfortable and enjoyed sharing about his life and career even though it was deeply personal.  He was vulnerable, funny and even burst out in song several times during the interview.

Although there have been many worthwhile events within the city celebrating Black History Month,  I’m sure this interview was greatly enjoyed by all who attended, including myself.