Health Bulletin: ‘Indomitable spirit’ drives fight against pandemics


Chair, Westfield Board of Health

By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair

Proud and happy to see the Department of Public Health report that Western Massachusetts is leading the state in pediatric COVID-19 vaccination rates. My grandson is also proud and happy that he has received his first vaccine. I remember with sadness the many parents and grandparents who won’t celebrate this small victory with their child or grandchild, because this pandemic has robbed them of their lives. I think about the children who have died before they had the opportunity to take advantage of this vaccine that would likely have saved them. Like every public health and clinical care professional, I am constantly trying to figure out how to help alleviate vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. Increasing the vaccine rate, along with other recommended measures are truly our greatest hope to end this pandemic.

Historically, we have been saving lives as well as preventing lifelong disabilities with vaccine administrations. Dating back hundreds of years, Buddhist monks were drinking snake venom to confer immunity to snake bites. The founding of vaccinology in the Western world is considered to be in 1796, when Edward Jenner inoculated a 13-year-old boy with the cowpox virus and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. Smallpox was fully eradicated in 1979 due to mass immunization. Despite the scientifically, evidence-based health gains from vaccines, there have always been some segments of our population resistant to the use vaccines. For the past two decades, there has been much research in the application of molecular genetics to vaccine development. The COVID-19 vaccine is absolutely not a new concept or lacking in research.

This country has celebrated and honored vaccine use. In 1925, much attention was brought to the diphtheria antitoxin when it was transported by a sled dog team led by a dog named Balto. The team completed the final leg of 650-mile run to Nome, Alaska, to combat an outbreak of diphtheria. The engine of the only aircraft available was frozen in a blizzard with temperatures of minus-23 degrees Fahrenheit. The antitoxin arrived safely and saved many children’s lives. A statue of Balto, erected in 1925, stands in Central Park in New York City. It is dedicated to the “indomitable spirit of the sled dogs” and their journey over rough ice through Arctic blizzards. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates the route taken by Balto and the other 20 drivers and teams. Balto’s remains were mounted by a taxidermist and donated to a museum. There have been several movies and books telling the story. Most recently, Universal made a children’s movie in 1995. Not only does this story acknowledge the bravery of the sled dogs and their drivers, it is a significant part of public health history.

The most important word in the last paragraph that we can apply to combatting this pandemic is “indomitable.” In-dom-i-ta-ble: adjective, meaning impossible to subdue or defeat. We have a choice of being indomitable or letting the virus be indomitable. The Health Department and board have chosen to be indomitable. Winter is coming, maybe we can get some sled dogs to deliver vaccines. Seriously, we continue to be committed to doing whatever we can within the confines of government to aid this community out of the pandemic. But we cannot do it alone. Realistically we are only a cog in the wheel. Every adult, business, organization, health care facility, local, state and federal government, and more all have to their part.

Forty-five consecutive weeks of informative columns available online and in the newspaper, a web site, multiple other articles and information in the paper, accessibility by phone for questions, thousands of hours of contact tracing, following up on reports of violations, daily and weekly meetings with the state, following through on every possible route of obtaining vaccines and accessing state resources of testing and vaccinations are only part of what we are doing. Are you doing your part?

Westfield will be having a COVID-19 vaccination clinic 3-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23, at Westfield Middle School for ages 5-11 and ages 12 and over. Parents and guardians must register online and accompany their child. Register at Please spread the word.

Despite the many inaccurate reports or suggestions that this pandemic is almost over, it is not. Numbers are rising in every New England state, and specifically in Westfield. The experts are predicting a fifth surge as we approach the holidays. Once again, we implore you to wear your mask, use hand sanitizer, avoid large gatherings, get vaccinated, get your children vaccinated, encourage others to get vaccinated, support those who are working hard for you, treat health care workers with the respect they deserve, and spread scientific and accurate information, not the virus. Choose to be indomitable in fighting this devastating virus.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

Dedicated health department members have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, as well as Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP, Margaret Doody, and Stan Strzempko, M.D.

We keep working to keep you safe.

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