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Contributed photo by Clive Kileff / Retired UTC anthropology professor Clive Kileff is giving away T-shirts to promote the COVID-19 vaccine.

One day about 70 years ago, Clive Kileff, then a 9-year-old boy, got the scare of his young life.

"I was riding my bike to school," he recalled, "and out of nowhere a dog came out and bit me on the leg."

Later, at school, a teacher noticed his leg bleeding, but the dog, which had showed signs of having rabies, could not be found. As a result, young Clive, who lived in Zimbabwe, Africa, at the time, had to endure a painful set of abdominal injections with the rabies vaccine.

All these decades later, Kileff, a retired UTC professor who has a doctorate in anthropology, hasn't forgotten the gift of medicine.

He hopes as many people as possible can be persuaded to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which he sees as the key to ending the worldwide pandemic that has scrambled the planet for most of the past two years.

Kileff, 79, came to the United States at 21 to study at Harvard University. He said he is motivated out of a simple desire to raise awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine. It might sound cliche, he said, but what's the price of a few dozen T-shirts when compared against a human life?

"I thought, 'Rather than sitting around reading all the materials, maybe there was something I could do," said Kileff, who retired from teaching in 2000.

It might be a crude form of advertising, but Kileff reckoned he could send powder-blue T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Vaccines Save Lives" to local officials and influencers. He also thought he could hand a few to people he meets on his walks. Kileef lives on the North Shore and often exercise in downtown parks and on the Walnut Street Bridge.

"I did 80 shirts and my wife thinks I should do another 80," he said. "I don't want to force them on people. I want people who got them to wear them."

He soon noticed that on his walks, people would stop him and ask to take selfies as a way of spreading his pro-vaccine message.

Kileff said he understands people who are vaccine hesitant, although he says no one has confronted him about his T-shirt.

"If I'm walking on the Riverwalk, people generally give me a good reaction," he said. "Others walk by as if they don't notice, but I haven't had people say negative things."

Kileff wants people to know that although the COVID-19 vaccines may seem to have arrived quickly, they are actually the product of years of preparation in the infectious disease community.

"Scientists have been working on the foundations of this vaccine for years," he said. "I believe in the scientific method. I think some people tend to discount science and doctors. The distrust of authority is part of it. They link the government with science and medicine and pharmaceutical companies."

To build on the momentum of his T-shirt project, Kileff is considering a new project, a poetry contest aimed at boosting vaccines.

He has even penned a few lines as an example:

As he struggled for breath

I feared he was close to death

He had refused a vaccination

Now he had no hesitation

Kileff's goal is to influence people before they get to that level of remorse. He's doing what he can.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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