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Thanks to Vaccines, the Golden Age for Children’s Health is Now

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

188th in a series

By SUE HUNTER WEIR
A grandmother tends the graves of two of her grandchildren. Two year-old Freda Aubele died on December 2, 1915. Her six-year-old sister, Annie, died the following day. Their wooden cross is gone but family members placed a new marker on their grave in 2009.
Photo credit: Aubele Family

The Washington Post recently ran the following headline: “Coronavirus infections dropping where people are vaccinated and rising where they are not.” The story was news only because it specifically referred to the novel coronavirus.  We have known for a long time that the numbers of illnesses and deaths decrease when people, especially children, are vaccinated. There are several  diseases that were once among the leading killers of young children, which have been either nearly or entirely eradicated in the United States. Since the arrival of vaccines, we no longer have to worry about measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, or smallpox. We have much to be thankful for, but the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued some alarming warnings about the current state of those diseases.

According to The Washington Post, in 2019, the number of people who died from measles was at a 23-year-high, having increased 50 percent in only three years. There has been a 60 percent decrease in the number of two- to six-year-olds who receive the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine, and a decrease of 63 percent in the number of two- to eight-year-olds who receive the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

How alarmed should we be? Looking back at the number of deaths caused by just one of the diseases mentioned above, in only one of the city’s cemeteries, the answer is: very. Among the people buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery between 1862 and 1918, 812 of them died of diptheria. Twenty-six of them were adults; the other 786 were children. It’s a staggering number. 

Thirty-nine families lost more than one child to diphtheria within a few days or a week of each other; five families lost two children on the same day.  Five families lost three of their members within a matter of days or weeks. These families’ heartache is unimaginable.

Within a period of 24 hours, Joseph and Madeline Aubele lost two children to diphtheria. Frida Aubele died on December 2, 1915; she was not quite two-and-a-half years old. Her sister, Annie, died the following day, aged six. Martin and Martina Renlie lost their second oldest daughter, Fredricka, on July 21, 1914. Peter and Anna Hatlestad lost their 23-month-old son, Theodore, and their five-year-old daughter, Eliza, on February 10, 1888. Less than a month later, on March 6th, they lost two-year-old, Tina. The list goes on and on, a grim reminder that when it comes to children’s health, there were no “good old days.” 


Four of Martin and Martina Renlie’s five children. From left to right, they are Harlaug, Fredricka, Frank Olaf, and Mollie. Fredricka died from diphtheria on July 21, 1914. She was ten years old.

The COVID-19 pandemic is slowing down, but by no means over. More people, including children, are eligible to be vaccinated.  Coronavirus vaccines are compatible with DTaP and MMR vaccines, so depending on availability at a particular location, it may be possible to protect your child from a long list of vaccine-preventable diseases and deaths in one visit. Despite the challenges of the past year and half, it is a good time for children’s health. Let’s be grateful for that, and take the opportunity to carry it forward. 

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