Polio Australia represents thousands of people who contracted polio because the vaccines were not available for them. Routine vaccination with ‘Salk’, or injected polio vaccine (IPV), began in 1956, replaced by ‘Sabin’, or oral polio vaccine (OPV), in 1966. This changed again in 2005, and Australia now uses the IPV vaccine exclusively. Australia was declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000.
However, Australia is also home to a number of survivors from countries where polio was more recently eradicated, or is still endemic. Achieving a safe level of immunisation throughout the population in many of these countries has been hampered due to numerous factors including lack of health-related education, poverty, population size, remoteness, and civil unrest.
WHO states that only 1 person from every 200 polio infections will develop paralytic polio and that most infected people (90%) have no symptoms or very mild symptoms and usually go unrecognised. However, they are still infectious and can spread the virus. This means that only 1 case of paralysis can indicate a polio epidemic. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
Contrary to popular belief, polio is not only a childhood disease. No adult should remain unvaccinated against polio. If an adult was not vaccinated against polio during childhood, a 3-dose primary course of IPV vaccine is recommended.
The following video (published on 27 April 2016 – 2 mins 2 secs) shares a little of the story of Dr Margaret Cooper OAM who contracted polio at the age of 4. Margaret also stresses the importance of immunisation
The following documentary (published on 13 July 2014 – 26 mins 54 secs) tells the stories of Australians who saw first-hand the effects of vaccine-preventable diseases and, in particular, polio.