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As the vaccination debate continues, Kerry White urges us to remember polio, and to remember how vaccinations stopped a deadly epidemic, and will continue to do so.
As a youngster in the 1950s I recall the advent of polio vaccinations in response to what were described a “frequent epidemics” over the previous 20 years. While 40,000 Australians contracted paralytic polio from the 1930s to the 1960s, according to Polio Australia’s website, this number represented only one percent of actual polio numbers.
Many were left with some form of paralysis and a small number died.
Since the 1960s, four cases have been reported – two acquired overseas and two associated with vaccine, according to the Commonwealth Department of Health. Anti-vaccine proponents might jump on that second statistic, so it should be pointed out that the Polio Global Eradication Initiative says vaccine-derived polio has occurred in only one in 2.7 million children.
In the current debate, those facts show the value of vaccination, at least to this non-medical layman. It is also worth noting the work of Rotary International, which launched its Polio Plus program in 1985, spearheaded by a Nambour Rotarian, Clem Renouf, a president of Rotary International. Rotary reports that it has contributed more than $1.3 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunise more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. Rotary is part of that global initiative, a public-private partnership that also includes the World Health Organisation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and governments of the world.
Today, there are only three countries that have never stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Less than 370 polio cases were confirmed worldwide in 2014, which is a reduction of more than 99 percent since the 1980s, when the world saw about 1,000 cases per day.
Polio surely presents a stark example of the good that vaccination brings, not just in Australia, but globally. Perhaps, the next major challenge is measles – in 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally, about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour – the World Health Organisation reports.
“Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available,” WHO says.
“Vaccination resulted in a 75 percent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide. In 2013, about 84 percent of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73 percent in 2000.
“During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.”
Measles is under control in Australia and most cases we do have are “imported”; vaccination can keep us free of major health issues caused by diseases such as measles and polio.