Cooties: they’re back

Ages ago, we thought we had a cure for cooties in the youth pop­u­la­tion: the cootie shot.

The dis­ease it­self could usu­al­ly go un­treat­ed with­out ill ef­fect; the re­al prob­lem was the sec­ondary so­cial stig­ma that came with be­ing a car­ri­er. Once the oth­er kids found out that you had cooties, your so­cial life would be roast­ed, toast­ed… burnt to a crisp. Play dates? Canceled. Sleepovers? In your dreams. And, hon­est­ly, who would want to go to your birth­day par­ty?

Yes, it was that bad.

From this cul­ture the cootie shot was born, and fear of cooties could make even the biggest wimp for­get he was afraid of shots — this was a se­ri­ous prob­lem for which there was no oth­er treat­ment. Even the chil­dren whose par­ents’ ques­tion­able sci­en­tif­ic be­liefs kept them far away from vac­ci­na­tions could be found seek­ing treat­ment in the dark al­leys of the school­yard, be­cause cooties — not chick­en pox or what­ev­er — was the one ill­ness that could keep you up at night, wor­ry­ing well past your bed­time.

The cootie shot was sup­posed to be a bul­let­proof de­fense against every known strain. It was sup­posed to of­fer a sec­ond chance at child­hood.

Getting vac­ci­nat­ed worked like this: a typ­i­cal­ly un­li­censed prac­ti­tion­er with ques­tion­able med­ical train­ing would ad­min­is­ter the shot by speak­ing the fol­low­ing in­can­ta­tion in a singsong voice, while us­ing their fin­ger to trace the not­ed shapes on your body.

Circle cir­cle, dot dot
Now you’ve got the cootie shot

But that’s just the first stage of the vac­cine cock­tail. Perhaps your fore­arm would be pro­tect­ed, but what about every oth­er part? If you didn’t con­tin­ue the full course of treat­ment, cooties would like­ly gain a foothold and ba­si­cal­ly ru­in your en­tire life.

Circle cir­cle, square square
Now you’ve got it every­where

At this point, you’d be safe un­til the shot wore off… which by the way, it would do al­most in­stant­ly. Kids were still get­ting in­fect­ed left and right, so the great­est med­ical minds on the play­ground came up with what seemed like a sil­ver bul­let for this pub­lic health cri­sis.

Circle cir­cle, knife knife
Now you’ve got it for your life

Only now could you breathe easy — you were fi­nal­ly im­mune. Not even the yuck­i­est girl1  could cause you harm.

At least that’s how it used to work. Once a panacea, a hope for a bet­ter to­mor­row, cootie shots have be­come scarce. This easily-preventable ail­ment joins measles, po­lio and whoop­ing cough as again some­thing we must once again wor­ry about.

What hap­pened? Make-believe med­ical pro­fes­sion­als to­day — with their hands tied by a well-known en­e­my of healthy and hap­py pop­u­la­tion — can be heard all too of­ten singing a very dif­fer­ent song:

Circle cir­cle, shame shame
Your HMO de­nied your claim

  1. Everyone knows that fe­males are the main car­ri­ers of cooties, and those bitch­es are every­where.