Share |

Vashon Rotary PolioPlus fundraiser

VHS Interact Club students (along with Rotarians Verne Johnson and John Burke) pushing the iron lung from the high school to Thriftway
VHS Interact Club students (along with Rotarians Verne Johnson and John Burke) pushing the iron lung from the high school to Thriftway

During the first week in June, the Vashon Island Rotary Club will hold two events related to child health and immunizations: a PolioPlus fundraiser and an Immunization Symposium.

In 1988, Rotary International (RI) began a program called PolioPlus whose ambitious goal was to eradicate polio from the face of the planet. At that time there were 125 countries where polio was endemic and 350,000 new cases of polio were reported each year. Working with the World Health Organization and other partners, PolioPlus has since immunized over 2 billion children. Now there are just 4 countries with endemic polio and there has been a more than 99% reduction in polio cases.

Two years ago the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued RI a challenge grant. If Rotary could raise $100 million, the Foundation would match it. Recognizing how close we were to the goal of complete eradication, and also acknowledging the very large job remaining to meet the goal, the Gates Foundation offered a new challenge. If RI could raise $200 million, the Foundation would match that with an additional $355 million, for a total of $550 million! The deadline for the challenge is the end of June 2011. Through March, worldwide, Rotary has raised $134.5 million, well over halfway.

Rotary Clubs all over the world have been asked to help. Last year Vashon Rotary was loaned an actual iron lung and held a fundraiser at Thriftway. Generous Islanders donated nearly $7,000. While for some, the threat of polio is unknown or a vague memory, we were surprised to find out how many people here on our island had personally been affected by polio. One woman came up to us, and, fighting back tears, told us about how her father had been building a house up in Snohomish County. Young and healthy, the men decided to take a lunch time break and go swimming in Puget Sound to find some relief from the hot summer. The next day, feeling weak, her dad went to his doctor. A preliminary diagnosis was he had come down with the flu. But in fact, swimming in polluted waters had exposed him to the polio virus and just a few days later he was paralyzed from the neck down.

Because of the new Gates Foundation challenge and the looming deadline in June, the Vashon Rotary Club has decided to again hold a fundraiser to help reach our goal. The iron lung will be back on the island, at the high school on May 31st. On Friday, June 3rd, it will move to Thriftway where we will again be accepting donations through Sunday, June 5th. Donations can be made to the Vashon Island Rotary Foundation, a 501-c-3 not-for-profit corporation. Donations are tax deductible within limits allowed by law.

Discussions in Vashon Rotary about PolioPlus led to a bigger conversation about childhood immunizations in general. It is well known that Vashon Island has a low immunization rate and that many parents have questions and concerns about vaccines. Rotary decided that it would sponsor a community symposium on childhood immunizations in order to answer these questions: Why are immunizations important? What is the science? What are the myths? What should parents do?

On Thursday, June 2nd, at 7:00 pm in the McMurray Middle School multi-purpose room, Dr. William Foege, Senior Advisor on Global Health to the Gates Foundation and former Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Gary Koch of the Vashon Health Center, and Celina Yarkin, an Island farmer, mother and community activist will discuss childhood immunizations. Craig Hanson of the Vashon Rotary Club will also briefly review the PolioPlus program.