I’m Convinced COVID-19 Vaccines (and My Mum) Saved My Life

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by Sherry Toh |

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When my little brother and I were barely out of our toddler years, there was one question I’d constantly hear other parents ask my mum: “Did your children get all their vaccination shots?”

To which my mum would reply: “Yes. After their father refused to let Sherry receive the vaccination for chickenpox, I made sure my children would be vaccinated when they needed to be.”

My mum would then go on to explain the horrors chickenpox unleashed on me when I was 2 or 3 years old. I don’t remember any of those horrors, only that I’d contracted the virus on my birthday and the symptoms appeared the next day. Mum, on the other hand, vividly remembers how I’d caused her multiple sleepless nights by trying to scratch my skin raw.

Now nothing can stop my mum from getting all three of her children vaccinated when appropriate.

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A close brush

Before I continue, it’s important for international readers to know we don’t have strong anti-vaccination sentiments here in Singapore. The myth that vaccines cause certain ailments or disabilities, such as autism, hasn’t perforated our culture. Singapore’s Ministry of Health reports that 96% of the eligible population has “completed the full regimen” of COVID-19 vaccinations. In other words, 96% of the eligible population has received the first two doses of their chosen COVID-19 vaccine.

People who are reluctant to be vaccinated or to vaccinate their children are therefore rare. Those rare few might have been affected by misinformation, plain and simple. In cases like my dad’s, any reluctance is almost always due to incidents that sow distrust in the medical system. When asked why he doesn’t trust the efficacy or administration of vaccines, he’ll say it’s because he overheard nurses planning to use an expired vaccine dose on me when I was an infant. Nevertheless, he still got his COVID-19 shots and booster, and he approved of me receiving mine.

As for myself, I’m generally pro-vaccination. I know I have SMA, and attacks on my immune system can be deadly, especially if caused by a respiratory virus like COVID-19. But I’ll admit that I was reluctant to be vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. Not because I distrusted health officials or believed I would develop other disabilities from the vaccine, but because one of the side effects I’d heard it might cause was pain and soreness in the receiving arm.

More pain added to the chronic neuropathic pain I was already experiencing wasn’t an appealing idea. Every other eligible and at-risk person in the house was vaccinated. Why did I have to be?

It took many days of my mum persuading me to get my shots for me to agree.

I don’t like admitting that my mum was right to make me do something. Like many mothers, she sticks those instances in a mental folder, then pulls them out when we have a disagreement to prove that I’m wrong and she’s right. This time, though, I’m grateful I listened to her.

If it weren’t for my mum and the COVID-19 vaccines, I probably wouldn’t be writing this column. I would very likely be wheezing with my BiPAP machine attached to my face 24/7, or worse, dead.

That’s no exaggeration. On Hari Raya last month, my two caregivers were given half a day off to go out and celebrate with a meal. They were both vaccinated, but one of them contracted COVID-19. Her symptoms were so mild, my family barely noticed she had a sore throat the first couple of days — until my mum asked her to take a rapid antigen test she’d brought home from work.

Coincidentally, Mum’s boss had the virus, and so Mum had to test herself regularly and brought test kits back. The line indicating my mum’s positive result was faint enough it could’ve been mistakenly interpreted as false. The one indicating my caregiver’s positive result was undeniably bold.

We were all shocked and worried. In the intervening days, the caregiver had bathed me and fed me my dinners without a mask on. It was a wonder I wasn’t already coughing up a storm. My family doesn’t affectionately call me a “virus detector” for nothing.

Feeling positive after a negative

I’m not sure if I had the COVID-19 virus. A few hours after Mum and my caregiver tested themselves, my throat was sore and my bones ached like they always do when I have a viral infection, but I tested negative. According to my mum, we might’ve tested me too early. Nevertheless, I did request a deadline extension for a column entry last month, as I knew I couldn’t write well until the aches cleared.

All I know is that while I understand that everyone has reasons for not getting vaccinated, I’m going to take my shots over risking an infection every time now.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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