March of Dimes Canada – Declaration on the Value of Immunization
A hundred years ago, infectious disease was the leading cause worldwide of all premature deaths. Today, in Canada, due to publically-funded vaccination campaigns it accounts for less than 5%. March of Dimes Canada has historically been a strong advocate for the power of immunization and continues to be today.
In the 30s, 40s and early 50s ―poliomyelitis (polio) or ―infantile paralysis was a dreaded household word across the western world. “The crippler,” as it was often known, was a threat to young and old and could lead to death or lifelong disability. Fear of polio spread like wildfire – especially during the summer months. Pools were shut down, children were kept inside, and the polio wards in hospitals were teaming with individuals in iron lungs or quarantined in hospital beds.
The funds collected door to door by the Marching Mothers was what made the dream of a polio vaccination reality. March of Dimes was established in Canada in 1951 specifically as a result of the scourge of polio, with the goal of raising funds to contribute to the research into a preventative vaccine. By 1955, Doctor Jonas Salk had successfully developed a vaccine and it was rushed to be manufactured at a variety of laboratories including Connaught Laboratories (now sanofi pasteur) in Toronto, Canada.
The introduction of a preventive vaccine against polio, and with it, immunization programs across Canada have significantly reduced the incidence of polio. The last indigenous case of wild poliovirus was in 1977, and in 1994, Canada was certified as being free of wild poliovirus by the World Health Organization (WHO). More recent cases of paralytic polio in Canada have been associated with importations of wild poliovirus from countries where polio remains endemic, namely– Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
99% of those at risk in the developing world have been inoculated – thanks to policy developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) resulting in a push for vaccination in polio endemic nations. India, a country long considered to be the hardest place to eradicate polio, was taken off the polio endemic list after being a whole year without a single case of polio in January 2012. It was certified polio-free in January 2014 after three years without a reported case of wild polio virus.
These modern day statistics are a testament to the power of immunization and how crucial it is that we take advantage of accessible, affordable vaccination programs. While new cases of polio are historically low – only 89 cases reported year to date—the threat of infection remains high.
Unfortunately, these diseases are never truly eliminated and risk returning, as we are seeing in their re-emergence in other parts of the world. In May, the WHO declared a “State of Emergency” due to reported cases of polio in previously controlled areas (i.e. Syria and Cameroon). The Public Health Agency of Canada is therefore cautioning travelers to stay up to date with their vaccinations and make sure everyone receives a booster before traveling to places where the polio virus is endemic or cases have been recently reported.
March of Dimes Canada is well aware of the importance of prevention and the truth to the adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. There is no cure for polio. We have spent over 60 years providing services and support for polio survivors, including those who have experienced the late effects of polio (post-polio syndrome) many years after the initial onset.
For this reason, MODC strongly supports the Public Health Agency of Canada’s position on immunization and vaccines. We encourage all Canadians to get immunized and ensure that their immunizations are up to date. We also want to remind Canadians that there are individuals at higher risk of infection such as small children, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, and travelers to countries where infectious diseases such as polio continue to be endemic, and they need protection. Immunization is safe and the most effective way to ensure that children and communities remain free of serious diseases.