Vaccines Save Lives

Vaccines Save Lives

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,  as Mary Poppins sang to the children in the film – the song was based on the children in real life in the UK. 

In the 1950’s children were provided with the polio vaccine as a liquid in a sugar cube and by  1960 77% of the UK’s children had been vaccinated.

 The public had come to fear this new disease, poliomyelitis, which  reached epidemic proportions in 1947.  From that year onwards, regular outbreaks occurred during the “polio season” each summer, with outbreaks caused by contaminated water in the sea and in swimming pools. 

There hasn’t been a case of polio caught in the UK since the mid-80s. But the infection is still found in some parts of the world, and there remains a very small risk it could be brought back to the UK.


There’s no cure for polio, so the vaccination programme continues. The virus enters the body through the mouth and is spread through contact with the feces (stool) of an infected person, mostly through contaminated water.

It is also spread through exposure to phlegm or mucus when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Now, good hygiene, including regular handwashing, no uncovered sneezing  and cleaned-up water,  is understood to be essential to stop the spread of polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria  and other diseases spread by an airborne virus. 

 ..viruses travel by air ..

No cure for polio

The public broadly accepts  that vaccinations are safe, effective and a sign of a modern functioning state. 

There is clear evidence of public demand for a coordinated routine immunisation campaign against all the many killer diseases that can be prevented by vaccination from taking hold.

Before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, epidemics would result in up to 7,760 cases of paralytic polio in the UK each year, with up to 750 deaths. 

Immunization by vaccination was developed between 1963 and 2006 for measles, rubella, meningitis, pneumonia, yellow fever, rabies, smallpox, hepatitis  B, chicken- pox and shingles. 

The other killer diseases including tuberculosis, diphtheria, HIV, and polio, and now Covid-19, do not have a cure and only vaccination, and good hygiene conditions, will hold them back from becoming epidemics, possibly pandemics.

1n 1980, smallpox was declared as eradicated – only some 25 years earlier 23 cases of smallpox occurred among military personnel in Gibraltar in February and March 1944. There were seven deaths but, stated the Governor, “ not a single case occurred in Gibraltar after full protection through vaccination had been given.”

Since 1988, worldwide, the polio vaccine has prevented more than 10 million cases of paralysis and saved more  than 500,000 lives.

“once a leading killer of children, polio has nearly been wiped out by a global vaccination effort”.  

Medical science reported in 2019 that “once a leading killer of children, polio has nearly been wiped out by a global vaccination effort”.  

Nevertheless if the worldwide programme to vaccinate children against polio was to end a resurgence would paralyze 200,000 children every year.. no cure has been found for polio.

A vaccination programme can be successful at the time but no vaccine can stop polio, or any other disease, if the vaccine  doesn’t get into people’s bodies..

Complacency a killer

 A long-standing problem with the polio eradication program has been “its need to  struggle  against worldwide complacency, fatigue, resistance, and poor planning – all human issues that technology can’t fix.”

The current Covid pandemic and lasting or future impacts for those who survive can and will be ended by mass vaccination – if it has the same support and participation that the population gave to  the polio vaccine.

“..99% of the anti-vax “movement” may well be due to the fact that many people have been fortunate enough to not see the suffering  of those who contracted polio in their lifetime.”

Even at the height of the polio epidemic  certain sections of the public, UK, USA and worldwide,  were “too apathetic towards the new technology and needed to be convinced of the benefit both to themselves and to the wider population”

 ..a visit to the hospital to see their neighbour’s child in an “iron lung” very often ended that apathy towards protecting their own children by getting them vaccinated.


good hygiene, including regular handwashing, no uncovered sneezing..

For polio to be fully eradicated, all three wild polio strains — types 1, 2, and 3 — need to stop circulating. The three strains all cause the same horrible symptoms, including paralysis and death, but are virologically distinct.

Eradication of polio by vaccination

A poliovirus can be considered eradicated if it hasn’t been detected for three years. Type 2 was eradicated back in 2015; the last case of type 3 polio surfaced in northern Nigeria in 2012 and the virus hasn’t been seen since. 

Those who have seen what polio can do know that all three strains mainly affect children under the age of five.

India, where polio was paralyzing 500 to 1,000 children per day in the 1990s, eliminated the disease in 2014. 

“The wrenching spectacle of child polio victims begging in that nation’s streets, with their twig-like legs folded beneath them, is now history”.

For Type 1, the current goal for full polio eradication is 2023. .. it will be vaccination that keeps many children safe until that time comes, and vaccination that eradicates it.

How vaccines work

Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.

When germs, such as the virus that causes COVID-19, invade our bodies, they attack and multiply. This invasion, called an infection, is what causes illness. 

Our immune system uses several tools to fight infection. Blood contains red cells, which carry oxygen to tissues and organs, and white or immune cells, which fight infection. Different types of white blood cells fight infection in different ways.

 ..soap kills viruses…

The first time a person is infected with a virus, it can take several days or weeks for their body to make and use all the germ-fighting tools needed to get over the infection. 

After the infection, the person’s immune system remembers what it learned about how to protect the body against that disease.

The body keeps a few memory cells, called T-lymphocytes,  that go into action quickly if the body encounters the same virus again. When the familiar antigens are detected, the other type of white cells, B-lymphocytes, produce antibodies to attack them. 

Experts are still learning how long these memory cells protect a person against the virus that causes COVID-19. in the UK is taking place of the first batches of the Covid-19 vaccine.                                                                    

The Gibraltar Health Authority explains…

“Second only to the provision of clean water, vaccinations have the greatest impact on the burden of infectious diseases. Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to facilitate the protection against future encounters with the corresponding infection or disease. 

Immunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to prevent up to 3 million deaths each year.”

Feature written by Jon Lewes 2021