drink up to the end of polio

June 7, 2021

Vernon’s COVID-19 vaccination program is well-underway, with more than half of North Okanagan adults having received their first dose.

Fifty-eight years ago, in 1963, the arrival of the Sabin oral polio vaccine in Vernon caused similar amounts of excitement among the city’s population.

A Vaccine you could drink

A polio vaccine was invented and tested in the 1950s and ‘60s by Albert Sabin, a Polish-American medical researcher. His vaccine replaced one invented by Jonas Salk that was approved for use in 1955. Salk’s vaccine was administered via an injection, while Sabin’s was taken orally.

 

From left to right, Dr. Duncan Black, Vera McCulloch and Bruce Cousins receive the Sabin oral polio vaccine from senior public health Nurse Evalyn Allingham.

 

The Toll of Polio

In the decades prior to the invention of a polio vaccine, thousands of people died around the world from the disease. Vernon experienced polio epidemics in 1927, 1934, and 1937. Although the disease mostly affected children, adults were also vulnerable to infection.

In 1953, Donald Joseph Tompson, a 29-year-old World War Two Veteran and Okanagan Telephone Co. employee, contracted polio and passed away five years later in Vernon. He left behind a wife and two young children.

Health Care Professionals Leading the Way

When Sabin’s oral polio vaccine arrived in Vernon in 1963, citizens of all ages were encouraged to take it. “Drink Up To The End of Polio” read signs plastered around the city.

Doctor Duncan Black, businesswoman Vera McCulloch and Mayor Bruce Cousins led by example, and were among the first to receive the vaccine. Evalyn Allingham, senior public health nurse for the North Okanagan, guided her staff through the process of immunizing Vernon’s population with both the Salk and Sabin vaccines.  

After years of the disease devastating populations around the world, polio vaccines helped to gradually reduce occurrences of the infection by 99%.

Gwyn Evans

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