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Fiftieth Anniversary of the Salk Polio Vaccine

- Edith Morris

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine. In 1955 there was great excitement and joy as this first announcement was broadcast on TV and radio, and Church bells rang in cities all over the United States. The dreaded epidemics of paralytic poliomyelitis which swept the world at regular intervals would now be curbed and possibly one day eradicated by the development of this vaccine.

Here in NZ, from the 1930's to the 1960's CCS cared for hundreds of children and adults who were the survivors of polio epidemics. I was one of those children. I had infantile paralysis at the age of 6 month, long before the polio vaccine was developed. CCS played a major role in my life. I spent many years at the Wilson Home in Takapuna as a baby, learning to walk with braces and crutches.

Edith with crutches and long braces
Edith with crutches and long braces 

My first remembered field officer was Miss (Nan) Sellars of Whangarei, who did her utmost to make something of my life. She dragged me to be fitted with special shoes and braces, to physio, and she arranged night classes when I didn't sit School Certificate. Then she sent me to Auckland at age of 16 to live at the Una Carter Hostel, and to study at Seddon Memorial Technical College. Miss Sellars saw potential in me that neither I nor others around me could see, and I am forever grateful for her influence. How glad I was to visit and thank her before she died recently. Other CCS personal helped me get my first job, and my first car and driving lessons along the water front in Auckland.

Today where are all those thousands of New Zealanders who had polio? We are no longer children or young adults but we continue to live with the after-effects of having had polio. Again we need medical attention as we age. Again we put on braces and use the crutches we threw away in our prime. Again we are asking that the 50 anniversary of one of the greatest vaccines developed is remembered by a modern generation. Polio has almost gone from the national psyche of most people in New Zealand, but still a remnant of us survive to tell the stories of our valuable and meaningful lives today.

Worldwide there are 20 million survivors of polio. Those of us who have courageously rebuilt our lives over the last 50 years should not be ignored or forgotten. Polio has given us a part in history. Thank you Jonas Salk and Benjamin Sabin for your vaccines which make it possible that polio will not plague our world in the future.

"Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality" - Jonas Salk

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2010 Polio NZ Waikato