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Updated 10:00 AM April 18, 2005
 

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Day for remembering
and looking forward>

Immunization: A call for action against disease

The 50th anniversary celebration of the polio vaccine announcement not only was a day to remember the triumph over a disease that once terrified the nation, but was a call for action to thwart current and future epidemics across the globe.

As the University and community came together April 12 to celebrate Dr. Thomas Francis' 1955 declaration that his research trials had found the polio vaccine "safe, effective and potent," speakers used the opportunity to stress the importance of disease prevention through immunization.

"Vaccines are worthless if not used," said Dr. William Foege, recipient of the first Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health.

Foege said following the polio vaccine's success, parents who had first been worried about their own children's health shifted to become concerned about the greater good.

"It led to a change in the rules as parents saw themselves as both protecting their children, but also honoring a social contract, which is part of living in this society. We're all in this together, and the polio pioneers symbolize that," he said. "Many parents now lack this sense of the social contract and so they have stopped immunizing their own children."

Avoiding immunization is not the issue, however, with people in other countries who cannot gain access to vaccines or are unable to afford them.

"I believe the greatest challenge in public health is to make sure the available technologies reach those who need it most, said Dr. Jon Andrus, University of California, Davis Medical School. "The gap between people who can afford these vaccines and those who cannot is enormous."

More than two million people die each year from diseases that could be prevented with a vaccine, and more than three-quarters of them are children, said Mark Wilson, associate chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in LSA and professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health. Unless something is done to get vaccines to those nations experiencing outbreaks of measles, Influenza B, pertussis (whooping cough) and other preventable diseases, 45 million children in world's poorest countries will die during the next decade, he said.

"Not surprisingly, the countries where polio transmission continues are among the poorest nations," Wilson said. "I believe the global community, and particularly the wealthy nations, have a responsibility to provide the resources, assistance and international cooperation needed to complete the polio eradication campaign."

The call to action struck a cord with polio survivor Beverly Rude from Bowling Green, Ohio, who came to the event after hearing about it in the U-M Hospital Orthotics/Prosthetics clinic, where she had been referred for new leg braces.

"It really reverberated in me that I should be getting in there and doing something about global health," said Rude, who contracted polio at age 4 months. "There's a lot a person can do—pay closer attention to what's going on with our national policies, more attention politically."

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