Polio Survivors support vaccinations for children
Polio NZ urges parents to ensure their children take part in New Zealand’s vaccination programme to get vaccinated against Poliomyelitis and other devastating viruses such as Measles which is experiencing outbreaks around New Zealand and the world due to unvaccinated children.
The New Zealand vaccination programme gives children vaccines against Polio through a schedule of three vaccines between six weeks and five months of age* as part of the Ministry of Health’s National Immunisation Schedule.
The Polio virus can cause paralysis in one or more limbs with the most severe cases resulting in death or having to stay inside an ‘iron lung’ when the breathing muscles became paralysed, says Polio NZ’s President, Brian Robinson.
“Our members mainly contracted the Polio virus during the epidemics of the 1940’s and 50s,” says Mr Robinson who is a Polio survivor himself.
“The Polio epidemics had a devastating impact on New Zealand society. Children were unable to go to school, workers couldn’t go to their jobs, people couldn’t travel and children were taken away from their families. There was a huge climate of fear and it was a very traumatic period for the country.”
Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine created by American virologist Jonas Salk was introduced, Polio was considered one of the most frightening public health problems in the world. Prior to the development of Polio vaccines nearly every person became infected, with the highest disease rate being in infants and young children. The Salk vaccine arrived in New Zealand in 1957.
“Thanks to the success of New Zealand’s immunisation programme against Polio nowadays most parents have no idea what Polio is and the devastating impact it can have on families’ lives,” says Mr. Robinson.
“However, there are only a few countries where the wild virus is still active because of the inability for the vaccine to be delivered. Until Poliovirus is completely eradicated worldwide, there remains a risk of Polio returning to any Polio-free country, including New Zealand.”
Since 1962, seven cases of Polio have been reported in New Zealand, the most recent was in 1998. Humans are the only host for Polioviruses. People infected with a Poliovirus excrete the virus in their saliva and faeces, whether they have symptoms of the disease or not. Polioviruses are passed from person-to-person through the faecal-oral or oral-oral route. The viruses may be passed on through contaminated water, milk or food.
According to Polio NZ’s estimates, there are still about 9000 people currently living with the effects of Polio in New Zealand. Many of them are now experiencing the ‘Late Effects of Polio’, also known as ‘Post Polio Syndrome’ where Polio survivors experience new and different symptoms 20 to 40 years after first contracting the virus.
“Most doctors and health professionals have little understanding of the Late Effects of Polio or how to treat it,” explains Mr Robinson.
“Polio NZ is working to educate health clinicians as well as Polio survivors themselves about how to treat the effects of Post Polio Syndrome.”