Vaccines and viruses: a history of pandemics

COVID-19 seems like a contagious virus without parallel, but Australia has been hit by devastating pandemics before.

The Spanish flu killed 15,000 Australians in 1919, smallpox decimated the Aboriginal population, HIV/AIDS once claimed 1000 Australian lives a year, and polio caused paralysis in tens of thousands.

This panel discussion examines the history of viruses and vaccines and their impact on Australian society and science.

Recorded on September 29, 2020. Collaboration with the National Museum of Australia


Peter Doherty - Laureate Professor, Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne; winner, 1996 Nobel Prize for medicine.

Dr Peter Hobbins - historian, Artefact Heritage Services, University of Sydney, State Library of NSW.

Gillian Thomas - President, Polio NSW, Polio Australia.

Big Ideas with Paul Barclay
Duration: 56min 28sec
Broadcast: Wed 14 Oct 2020, 8:05pm

Australia 20 years Polio Free

October 26th 2020 marked 20 years since Australia was declared polio free.

And while polio still exists in a few parts of the globe, the push to eradicate continues.

If successful, it would make polio only the second virus to be eradicated from world, after smallpox.

Cassie McCullagh discussed the effects of polio on past generations of Australians and the push to totally eradicate it with Gillian Thomas, President of “Polio Australia and a Sydney based polio survivor, as well as Sarah Meredith from “Global Citizen Australia”, which is a partner of the Global Polio Eradication Programme.

Focus with Cassie McCullagh

Duration: 26min 32sec
Broadcast: Fri 23 Oct 2020, 10:00am

A brief follow-up contact from a polio survivor (21sec):

*Polio Australia representatives speak in this interview from 14:54-19:30 (audio clip below)

It's 20 years since Australia was declared free of polio. This is an important milestone for Australian's born before the 1960's because this highly infectious disease was a real and frightening possibility. Vaccination has brought the disease under control but there's concern that people who've been touched by polio aren't getting the support they need as they age.

Guests: Polio Survivor Doug Wait, Treasurer of Polio Australia Alan Cameron, and paediatric infectious diseases specialist Phil Britton.

Australia Wide with Alex Hyman

Full Program:
Duration: 30min
Broadcast: Mon 2 Nov 2020, 5:00pm

Clip of segment on polio (4min 35sec):

Staff were invited to speak to several Rotary Clubs about polio survivors, Polio Awareness Month, and Polio Australia's advocacy role and programs.

Rotary Club of Portland (Michael, via Zoom)
Rotary Club of Cairns Trinity (Michael, live in person)
Rotary Club of Port Macquarie (Steph, via Zoom)
Virtual Australia Wide Rotary Meeting (Gillian and Steph, via Zoom)