By Nick Bernard
Getting vaccines to those who need them most has been part of The Rotary Club’s worldwide mission to make each community in which it operates a better place. For more than a hundred years, millions of Rotarians the world over have been fostering relationships, spreading education, and working with aid organizations to help eliminate diseases like polio. Thanks to their efforts, almost three billion children have been vaccinated against the disease.
Here at home, members of the Rotary Club of Haliburton have been doing their part to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, working with local health units to manage the delivery of COVID vaccines into the arms of their friends, families, and neighbours.
To say thanks to its COVID-19 vaccination volunteers, the Rotary Club of Haliburton paid for the equivalent of 10 vaccines per volunteer and made the donation in their names this Christmas, contributing to Rotary’s international effort to eradicate polio.
Ursula Devolin is the president of the local Rotary chapter. She says that with restrictions in place, it was a gift that made sense to give to the volunteers.
“We wanted a way to acknowledge what [the volunteers had] done … all the hours that people had contributed to working at vaccination clinics,” she said, calling it a fitting gift. “We can’t gather, we can’t do … a celebration of some kind, so this just seemed like a way to acknowledge their efforts in a way that was suitable to what Rotary does.”
According to Mike McGovern, who is the chairperson of the Rotary International PolioPlus Committee, 2021 had been “a great year for polio eradication.”
“At this point, we can count the cases of wild polio virus this year on one hand,” he said in an email to Rotary members. “It has been the unceasing focus of Rotarians around the world working with our partners to end polio once and for all and we have never been closer.”
Polio, a viral infection, was first discovered in the 1800s, with the first known outbreak in Canada occurring in 1910. According to the Canadian Public Health Association, more than 11,000 people were paralyzed by polio in five years. Until COVID, polio was considered the most serious national epidemic since the influenza epidemic in 1918. The polio vaccine was introduced in 1954. It took until 1994 for Canada to be declared polio-free.
The polio vaccine costs less than a dollar per dose.
In addition to the cost of doses contributed per volunteer, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an agreement with PolioPlus to match every dollar contributed two-to-one. This means a total of 4,500 doses will be going to 30 children, all on behalf of Rotary’s volunteers in Haliburton.
“I just think it’s our responsibility to pay these things forward; make these things that are accessible to us, accessible to other people who struggle to get these things,” Devolin said about what the gift means to her as a Rotarian. “I think we should be using our resources to help other people, as opposed to just getting more for ourselves.”
And that, she said, is how the volunteers feel too.
“This has been an extraordinary time, but as you watch the volunteers come and help … manage the clinics, to get them through to the medical staff … it’s a nice thing to watch,” she said. “It’s just great to see that people are very happy to get this done and look out for each other.”
Polio has been a priority for Rotary for more than 35 years. Today, the disease remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but work to eradicate the disease worldwide continues.