Why Isn’t There A Vaccine Against Stupidity

It seems that in the near future, whenever we travel to foreign countries, we may very well have to present a vaccine passport to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19. Some academics and human rights groups are voicing concerns about these new vaccine passports. They suggest it may be discriminatory against those waiting for a vaccination, anyone who can’t have a Covid vaccine for medical or religious reasons, and persons who reject mandatory immunisation because they control and decide what goes into their body. Other flustered persons have expressed concerns about their privacy and the ease of hacking a digital vaccine passports information. Now I’m not sure what the big deal about a vaccine passport is about because having to prove you were vaccinated to enter a foreign country is not a new concept.

image source: jmcadam

When I was wandering Europe, the Middle East and Asia along the ill-defined hippie trail, I carried a passport, Barclay’s travellers’ chequers, a fake international student card, an international drivers licence, and the World Health Organisation’s International Certificate of Vaccination. The certificate was a yellow booklet known colloquially as the yellow card. Different countries had different mandatory immunisation requirements, and the yellow card became a vaccine passport to be checked at border crossings for the required vaccinations and if they were current before you were approved to enter. Travellers got the vaccinations needed for each country. We were concerned about our health and well being and the adventure of travel, and didn’t worry about who controls and decides what vaccines go into our bodies.

By the sixties, most communicable diseases in Australia were controlled by routine childhood vaccinations and high living standards. Like most Australians growing up in the fifties, I was inoculated against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio, but not smallpox. Back then, smallpox wasn’t widespread in Australia, so there were no mass vaccination programs for the disease. I’d seen photos of smallpox victims, and they caused me to have the same fear of it as I did for polio. Australia experienced a major polio epidemic in the late fifties. I remember seeing images of children laying immobile in bed suffering from paralysis and pictures of others with their heads jutting out from iron lungs. John Tillerson, lying immobile on a flat wooden cart with bicycle wheels, was one of the pictures come to life.

image source: pursuit.unimelb.edu.au

Whenever we played cricket in the street, the electricity pole was the wicket, and the gutter was the crease. The electricity pole wicket was a couple of houses down from the Tillerson’s. If we were playing cricket on a warm summer day, Mrs Tillerson would wheel John out of the front gate and onto the footpath on a flat wooden cart. He’d watch us play laying stretched out along the length of his wooden cart. John had polio, and his unbendable legs were in iron braces. We called him Tin Legs Tillerson, but not to his face.

During the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, ships from Lloyd Triestino, Chandris, Sitmar, and P&O made up the immigration conveys sailing from England, and Europe, to Australia. It was commonplace to see the Fairsea, Arcadia, Patris, and Galileo docked at Port Melbourne’s Station Pier. When the ships left Melbourne to return to their home ports, the government-assisted migrants and Ten Pound Poms they carried to Australia were replaced by twenty-something-year-old Aussies starting their hallowed rite of passage, a two-year working and travelling holiday of England and Europe.

image source: museumsvictoria.com.au

I boarded the S.S. Galileo with a yellow card having signed stamps showing the date of vaccinations for smallpox, malaria, diphtheria, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis. Protection against diphtheria, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, and tetanus was somewhat standard for the hallowed rite of passage. Because I was unsure of where my travelling while searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary would lead me, I thought vaccination against smallpox and malaria would be a plus. All I remember about getting the smallpox vaccination is the cautionary words of the doctor infecting me.

Me: G’day mate; I’m here for my smallpox jab.
Smallpox Doc: It’s not like a vaccination you’re used to. I won’t be sticking a needle into yu. I’m gunna put the vaccine just under the first layer of your skin by taping around a small part of your arm with a two-pronged needle.
Me: Crikey!!!!
Smallpox Doc: Your gunna have a blister in a few days and it’ll be incredibly itchy. Whatever you do, don’t scratch it. In a few weeks, it’ll scab over and then fall off. You’ll have a pitted scar there for the rest of your life.
Me: No worries mate.

image source: reddit

A few days after getting the jab, a liquid-filled blister appeared on my left arm, where the doctor pricked my skin with the vaccination needle. I covered it with a band-aide to help me with resisting the urge to scratch at the itchy, fluid-filled blister. Whenever I changed the band-aide, I couldn’t help but look at the blister filling itself with pus, and that caused me to remember the photos I’d seen of children with smallpox; their face, upper arms, and body covered in small pus-filled blisters. I’m not sure if I threw the scab in a paper bag when it fell off and if I tossed it into the rubbish bin or not.

It took two months to travel by ship from Australia to Durban, up the coast of Africa to the Canary Islands and stopping in Messina, Naples and Genoa. I began my rite of passage in the mother country, sharing a small room in a Tooting Bec three storey row house with my Aussie travel mate and four English lads. During the long hot summer, I worked as a lifesaver at an outdoor swimming pool nestled in the corner of south London’s Brockwell Park. A few weeks before summer’s end, my Aussie travel mate and I bought a 1960’s Ford Angelia panel van with money we saved from our summer lifesaving jobs. It was a small dark blue van without windows, similar to a fruiterers delivery van or what you’d see on a London street while watching a baffling Scotland Yard mystery feature film.

image source: youtube

At summer’s end, we both were without jobs, so we made a deep and thoughtful decision; we’d search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary by driving our Ford Angelia van across Europe and then follow the Hippie Trail from Turkey through the Middle East to India. With the Ford Anglia van safe in the bowls of a drive-on drive-off car ferry, I spent the cross-channel journey from Dover to Belgium in the ferry’s lounge drinking pints of warm beer. In those days, I thought of Europe as an adult Luna Park; a hallowed rite of passage experience. Twenty-something-year-old Aussies didn’t go to Europe to find history, culture, and sophistication but went there for adventure, thrills, and naughtiness. During the next several weeks, the Anglia took us along the highways, laneways, narrow winding roads, roundabouts, and through the villages, towns, and cities of Germany, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. At night we parked in village squares, side streets, and out of the way places and nestled into our sleeping bags in the back of our trusty van. At border crossings, our passports were stamped, and on-demand showed what was now our tattered yellow card.

image source: med.umich.edu

The Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, is the oldest section of Athens. In the early seventies, pastry shops, old men playing backgammon, nightclubs, and street vendors selling the best tasting souvlakis filled its streets. We parked the Anglia in the streets of the Plaka, and it became our bedroom in Athens. During the day, I walked the twisted, hilly, narrow streets of the Plaka and wandered to the Acropolis. I sat alone among the Parthenon stones and watched Athens stretching itself into the distance. Because I needed up to date vaccinations for Turkey and Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, I checked my yellow card a few days before leaving Athens when I was sitting peacefully on one of the Parthenon stones. Some vaccinations needed updating, so I headed off to a hospital on one of Athen’s main streets for the round of new vaccinations. I don’t remember getting the updates, but my tattered yellow card was newly date stamped, the dosages noted, and signed by a Greek health specialist.

In the Hippie Trail days, the streets surrounding Istanbul’s Blue Mosque were the parking garages for Magic buses, Volkswagen Kombis, old Royal Mail vans, and a collection of unroadworthy minivans. We parked the Angelia in the shadow of the Mosque and enjoyed Istanbul for the next week or so. I’d begun to practice the traveller’s ritual of finding a bank to cash a traveller’s check, changing leftover money into a different currency, checking for required visas, and checking vaccinations are valid for the upcoming border crossing a few days before leaving for a new country. In the shadow of the Mosque, I discovered my Aussie travel mate and I had overlooked a lapsed vaccination in Athens; we needed to find someone in Istanbul to vaccinate us.

image source: jmcadam

Fellow travellers who were sharing the Blue Mosque parking garages told us the whereabouts of a doctor who gave vaccinations. My travel mate and I trusted the owner-driver of a classic 1950’s American car, come Istanbul taksi dolmus, to find the doctors house somewhere in Istanbul. The consulting room was a small room with a table and a medicine cabinet on the wall above a sink. The doctor entered the room, took a syringe from the table drawer, turned toward the wall-mounted cabinet, and motioned both of us to bare an arm for the vaccination. He filled the syringe with the liquid from a vial he took from the cabinet. My travel mate raised his hand to signal he would be first. The doctor plunged the needle into his arm and released the serum. In an instant, he spun around, jabbed the needle into my arm, and emptied the syringe of the leftover serum. He recorded the dosages, dated, stamped, and signed our tattered yellow cards. I offered him Greek drachmas for his services; I hadn’t cashed a travellers check or changed money before leaving Athens.

I wonder if the doctor with the small consulting room in Istanbul is equipping it with the necessary technology to interact with the fast data rates and greater capacity of the next-generation communication networks in anticipation of someone with a digital vaccine passport knocking on his door. Maybe it would be better if the Covid vaccination left a scar similar to the smallpox vaccination; if so, you could wear your vaccine passport on your arm.


The 1970s Hippie Trail: Drugs, Danger, and a Magical Pudding Shop in Asia

A Short History of Vaccination Campaigns in Australia

How Would digital COVID Vaccine Passports Work?

Getting Lost Going the Right Way

The other day I was wandering the rows of flower-laden tables at Mulhall’s trying to decide between the Spilanthes Oleracea and the Cuphea Llavea; something a little different for the backyard patio containers. Mulhall’s was established in 1957 by Irish immigrants John and Maureen Mulhall. Some say it is Omaha’s favourite full-service garden centre and that it has the largest selection of plants and flowers in town. John’s love of plants is shared year-round with Omaha gardeners. I picked up four-inch pots of different annual after different annual, pushing them between my Spilanthes and Cuphea in my trolley; nothing seemed to compliment the eyeball plant and bat face plant. It was an unreasonably hot and humid day. I started to wander aimlessly, snatching at any flowering green plant. My trolley was bouncing off the tables of potted greenery; I was surrounded by a sea of greenery and vibrant colour, and I thought I saw people wearing flowers in their hair. I felt light-headed and confused. I knew I had to clear my mind; rest my head on my crossed arms and take deep breaths. And so I looked around for a park bench.

john on bench

image source:johnmcadam

Mulhall’s has several landscaping examples scattered throughout the hardscaped surrounds. I found a park bench and after a short time pushed back, stretched out my legs and relaxed: And I was soon musing on my walkabouts when I was searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. I closed my eyes and faded images of faraway places and people paraded before me. I saw reflections of myself as an ethereal legend wandering an unexplored world. I wonder if Tony Wheeler thought of himself as an ethereal legend when he was sitting on park benches in London in the early seventies. He was sitting on park benches when he was studying for an MBA at the London Business School; and he met Maureen, his future wife, sitting on a park bench. After Tony graduated the brand new husband and wife team set off on an overland journey through Europe and Asia to Australia. In late 1973 they started Lonely Planet Publications to publish Across Asia on the Cheap. And so was published the bible for backpackers and travellers. I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill-defined hippie trail a couple of years before the Lonely Planet. The hippie trail was the word of mouth and trial and error.

Hippie trail

image source:wikimedia

Tony and Maureen defined the trail and made hangouts like the Pudding Shop in Istanbul and Chicken Street in Kabul must stop at places. Back then It was a journey without ATM machines to spit out local currencies, SIM cards for international roaming, personal GPS devices, Skype for video chat, and Google Translate; you had a World Health Organization yellow card, passport, and a collection of either American Express or Barclay’s Bank traveller’s cheques. The World Health Organization yellow card was a passport of vaccinations. Different countries had different travel immunization requirements before you could enter them, and it was also a good practice to not only get the required vaccinations but all of the additional significant safeguards; our yellow card usually contained stamps showing the date and dose of vaccinations for smallpox, tuberculous, yellow fever, cholera typhoid, tetanus and, hepatitis.


image source:med.umich.edu

The Ford Angelia van was parked close to the Plaka in a tract that was the parking garage for the magic buses, Volkswagen kombi’s, old Royal Mail vans, and all the other unroadworthy minivans that were wandering the hippie trail. And it was time to find a bank to cash traveller’s cheques, apply for a visa at the Turkish embassy, and stop in at a hospital to have vaccinations updated before driving the Ford Angelia across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Cashing traveller’s cheques meant finding a bank; the more substantial looking the bank the better because they probably had a foreign currency tellers window. I had Barclays English Sterling traveller’s cheques; most I would have got before leaving Australia and I would have used any money I had saved from working in London to buy additional cheques. You signed each cheque in front of the teller at the bank where you purchased them and then at the foreign bank where you were exchanging them for the local currency you would sign again in front of the teller. It was a problem guessing how much money you would need in a specific country: you could end up with a considerable amount of currency that you carried into your next country.


image source:qzprod.files.wordpress

I think my logic at the Athens bank when guessing how many English Pound traveller’s cheques to exchange for Greek drachmas was; Greek was close to the edge of connecting Europe to the Middle East and Asia so drac’s had to be good and I could exchange them in any small town bank or on the street black market; besides I always had a small hidden stash of American Dollars. If I had studied world economics instead of chemistry at Footscray Technical College I would have been more in tune with the theories of the Swiss moneymen; the gnomes of Zurich would never have set forth with such a large cache of drachmas. I was to learn that drachmas were not an attractive currency in Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan; in the early seventies, any foreign currency in Afghanistan was celebrated. There was a large hospital on one of the main streets of Athens; it presented an imposing streetscape. I don’t remember receiving the vaccination updates but our yellow cards were date stamped, the dosages noted, and signed by a health specialist. And I also can’t recall the Turkey visa in the passport undertaking.

We parked the Angelia in the shadow of the Blue Mosque in Instanbul; and it seemed we were surrounded by Volkswagen kombi’s, old Royal Mail vans, and a collection of other unroadworthy minivans that were wandering the hippie trail. The ritual was becoming the same; find a bank to cash traveller’s cheques, apply for a visa at the embassy, and check that vaccinations are current and updated for the next country. Jeff and I had overlooked one vaccination in Athens and so had to find a health specialist in Istanbul. The streets and footpaths of Istanbul were crowded and chaotic with cars and people; most of the cars were classic 1950’s American made and we decided it would be easier to use an Istanbul taksi dolmus instead of he Angelia.

taksi dolmus

image source:curbsideclassic.com

The driver found us a health specialist at a house somewhere in Istanbul. It was a small room with a medicine cabinet on the wall above the sink. The health specialist took a syringe out of the table draw and turned toward the wall-mounted cabinet, asking us to bare the arm we wanted for the vaccination. He filled the syringe with a liquid from a vial in the cabinet. As soon as Jeff had raised his hand saying he would be first the health specialist plunged the needle into Jeff’s arm and released the serum. Before another word was said the specialist spun around and plunged the needle into my arm and emptied the remaining serum in the syringe into my arm. The health specialist date stamped, recorded the dosages, and signed our yellow cards. I offered him drachmas for his services.

Jeff and I took local passenger vans from the Turkish border to Tehran and word of mouth had us staying in a backpackers hotel which I think was close to the railway station; although the railway in those days ended in eastern Turkey. There was a modern Tehran hidden somewhere under the chaotic growth executed under the Shah’s regime. The side streets that we explored without GPS devices were narrow labyrinths of storefronts and people. And you could feel the heavy censorship as the presence of the secret police was felt everywhere.


image source:baharanooshahr.com

One night in a restaurant tea shop a group of Iranians started an English conversation with us. They asked if we would go walking with them so we could continue to talk. Outside and walking they told us they didn’t want any trouble in the restaurant because they didn’t know if we were being watched and listened to. The conversation became more than a hint of politics; they talked about censorship, resentment, repression and freedom and asked us to carry the message beyond the borders of Iran. I would wonder what part these men took in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. There was strong resentment against Americans because of the support provided by the United States to the Shah dynasty. And most Americans travelling the hippie trail in the early seventies found the going was easier if they just said they were Canadian or Australian; Anytime they had to show a passport the questioning became protracted, service lackadaisical, and civility halfhearted.

And so we used local passenger van buses to cross the border into Afghanistan and onto the Afghan capital of Kabul. The hippie trail surveyors had mapped out an area in Kabul known as Chicken Street and the Peace Hotel or Sigi’s were the places to stay. Afghanistan was famous for hand-crafted textiles, leather goods, and carpets and the streets close to Chicken street were lined with merchants; and most of the shops in Chicken Street sold an array of handicrafts, carpets and clothes.

kabul street

image source:theatlantic.com

Dickering was expected and the negotiation process was just part of the way it was. The dickering could take an hour or more, and it was always accompanied by small glasses of sweet Afghan tea. Anyone who paid the first asking price for anything was considered an idiot. You could spend a lot of time bickering with the merchants, and smoking, and drinking tea, and they didn’t care if you bought anything or not. And most merchants also had a stock of local Afghan hash. Exchanging money on the black market gave you a far more attractive rate than the official ones. Besides converting travellers’ cheques in Kabul banks took forever and the transactions were documented in your passport. It was a creative skill to balance the undeclared Greek drachmas and US dollars exchanged on the black market with the officially exchanged Barclays traveller’s cheques; the official exchanges always showed enough money for food, travel, and accommodation. Kabul was a city that detoured around the official bureaucracy.

khyber pass

image source:pipstrickland.com

Jeff and I parted ways in Kabul. Jeff stayed an extra few days before he started the overland trek back to London. And I took a local bus through the Khyber Pass and into Pakistan.

I’ve started a shopping list of essentials for my next overseas travel.

Voltage converters and plug adapters
Space saver bags
Inflatable neck pillows
Waterproof footwear
Portable hygiene kits
Hand sanitiser and wet wipes
Jet lag pills

Poncho or travel umbrella
Laundry clothesline kit
Inflatable hoodie pillow
USB roll-up travel charger
Travel towel
Portable Bluetooth keyboard