Oklahoma is in the lowest dozen states nationwide for COVID-19 vaccination. Now, 52 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, and twice as many have gotten at least one dose. A million Oklahoma doses have been administered. About half that number are fully vaccinated. Tribes have administered over 200,000 doses.

This week, all at-risk Okies can be vaccinated. Anyone can get the vaccine. We are in Phase 4. The Oklahoma State Department of Health estimates all Oklahomans can finish their two-shot regimen by May.

Yet misinformation abounds. Vaccines don’t contain microchips nor human or animal "parts," medical professionals explain. Researchers quickly developed the COVID-19 vaccine based on the principle of most vaccines: Human immune systems learn to recognize the virus carcass, and put out "wanted" posters for the culprits wherever those foreign agents may be found. Maybe I’ve oversimplified the explanation, but you get the idea. The vaccine teaches your body what to recognize, so your natural immune system can step up the response.

My only noticeable effects from the first shot were feeling sleepy, groggy and having itchy eyes. My arm’s injection spot muscle was tender for a day. The symptoms some people experience are not actual virus symptoms but rather immune system response symptoms caused by deployment of the little white blood cell troops that swarm to the trouble spot to protect you. It may be that symptoms attributed to the virus are caused by other allergies, such as tree flowers that have begun to bloom. Runny nose, scratchy red watery eyes, and the like could be from your body learning to stop the coronavirus. Those are good symptoms if you don’t want to die from a formidable infection you pick up from your random environment.

A year into World War I, having originated someplace in the Great Plains (or so researchers speculate), the Spanish Flu pandemic killed 195,000 people in America. Theaters, churches and schools were shut down. Three to 5 percent of the people in the world died, and 500 million people got it. Everyone thought it had peaked and declined by July 1918. But by September, after almost completely disappearing, it came back with a vengeance. Then, 759 Philadelphians died in one day. That October was a deadly month in American history when 195,000 people died. People were buried in mass graves. The undertaker industry could not keep up.

Historians now think it might have come from migratory birds. About three-fourths of human viruses come from animals. For the record, Spain had nothing to do with it. Personal hygiene and isolation were the best they could do, as over 50 million people died worldwide. Photos from then show boys wearing bags of camphor around their necks. People ate lots of oranges and wore masks of sometimes specious and sometimes exaggerated proportions. An industry of steampunk-looking devices was invented, of which it was claimed that they cured the cold, protected from infection, and more.

But we’ve had it easy. The Plague in 541 killed half the population of the Roman empire. Some 5,000 deaths per day in Constantinople were heralded. Emperor Justinian got it, but he survived. Later on, in the 14th Century, an estimated 200 million people died from Bubonic Plague. And in the 1890s, some 12 million souls succumbed to The Plague, which we now know can be treated with antibiotics.

Public health professionals know the drill. Their purpose is to anticipate and mitigate natural spikes in human infection from communicable diseases. For those inclined not to prime their immune systems, keep in mind there might come a time when it might not be available if you were to change your mind.

Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.

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