The Multiplex fig tree lights have this week been lit orange for polio awareness, 68 years since Bundaberg was the first Queensland town to receive the polio vaccine.
The news was front page of The Courier Mail on 14 October 1954 with the title reading ‘Bundaberg gets polio drug first’.
“Gamma globulin injections will be used for the first time in Queensland today, to combat Bundaberg’s poliomyelitis epidemic,” the article read.
“A supply of the drug was flown to the city late yesterday.”
According to the report, injections were to begin that very day with a pregnant woman whose husband had contracted polio just that week to be the very first to receive it.
“A 32-year-old married man, taken to the isolation ward of the Bundaberg General Hospital at 3.30 yesterday, brought the total admitted since the beginning of July to 12,” The Courier Mail said.
Bundaberg’s 1954 polio outbreak appeared to have been making headlines throughout the state with the Cairns Post reporting on 13 October that the Director-General of Health Dr Fryberg had flown to Bundaberg to investigate.
While polio is no longer prevalent in Australia thanks to a National Vaccination Program, organisations like Rotary International are still working tirelessly to completely eradicate the disease.
Local history enthusiast and member of Rotary Club of Bundaberg Central Ross Peddlesden said he had always held an interest in the campaign with local Rotary groups involved in the international fundraising efforts.
He said Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio started back in 1985.
“The idea was to eradicate polio through an aggressive international campaign of vaccination,” Ross said.
“By that stage polio vaccination had been around for decades, they knew they worked so the point was to get every child in the world to vaccinate against polio.
“It happens in Australia but not everywhere.”
Since its outset Ross said Rotary routinely raised about $50 million a year for the cause, using the funds to pay for vaccines and for teams of people to travel the world administering them.
While cases of polio had almost entirely disappeared in recent times Ross said it was less developed countries, or countries with access issues as a result of ongoing conflicts, which still needed Rotary’s advocacy.
“The good news is last year there were only six cases of wild polio picked up in the community,” he said.
“So we’re that close to eradication.
“I have to say there are still places in the world where polio virus has been picked up in wastewater – the virus is still out there so we’re having to be really vigilant and keep an eye on things because you know it could change at any time.
“[But] in terms of actually reported cases of infection from wild polio virus we had six cases last year.
“It’s pretty incredible.
“It’s that last little bit that is so hard to eradicate … but we’re getting there.
“This would only be the second disease ever to be totally eradicated from the world.
“The first was smallpox.”