In the 1950s, a disease called poliomyelitis ravaged thousands of children in the United States. This disease has been detected for over a hundred years but not in the magnitude of the outbreak at that time that led to the death of thousands of children, and thousands more who survived, but left with mild and disabling paralysis.
Though there have been efforts to find a cure for years, it wasn’t until 1955 when a vaccine was discovered that drastically reduced the number of cases by 90 percent. Three years later, an oral polio vaccine was also made available and this is now what is distributed worldwide.
Rotary International is one of the organizations that spearheaded the eradication of polio in the world and launched its fight in the Philippines in 1979, through a $760,000 grant project to immunize six million children against polio.
RI President James Bomar, Jr. came to administer the first dose of polio vaccine during the project launch and since then, the country has never looked back and millions of Filipinos have been saved from the debilitating disease.
In 2000, the World Health Organization declared the Philippines polio-free but a setback in the country’s vaccination program led to the re-emergence of polio in 2019. By the end of that year, we recorded four cases and the Department of Health declared another outbreak.
The following year, we found ourselves facing the biggest crisis in our lifetime when COVID-19 pandemic was declared worldwide. Despite the challenges though, Rotary clubs continued with their advocacy and mass immunization of polio and last June 11, WHO along with UNICEF, declared the Philippines as polio-free again, leaving just Pakistan and Afghanistan as the remaining countries in the world that are still facing the polio threat.
The same thrust that ‘vaccines do work’ in eradicating diseases is now being embraced by Rotary in the fight against COVID-19. A couple of months ago, the Philippine Rotary launched the National Town Hall that started the vaccination advocacy campaign especially amidst misinformation and low-acceptability of the vaccination program.
The COVID-19 campaign hopes to make a dent in the country’s effort to abate the surge of cases and reach herd immunity. The battle is uphill but Rotary believes that if all clubs will participate, as it actively did in the End Polio Now campaign, we may be able to succeed in reversing the mindset of the public.
Thus, the BeatCOVIDNow hashtag was launched to accompany the social media campaign with the challenge to all Rotarians to help spread the word, starting from within the family to the communities we serve.
Cliché it may seem, getting vaccinated is indeed a heroic act because it goes beyond self-preservation. It is an act that will help save you, your family, our frontliners, our communities and so the call made was “Be a Hero. Get Vaccinated.”
Rotary did it with polio. Now let’s take the fight to end COVID-19.