Last weekend, my family and friends participated in “March for Babies”– a fundraiser and walk benefitting the March of Dimes Foundation, whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. During my daughter’s hospital stay, I learned firsthand that the March of Dimes is also a tremendous support for families with babies in the NICU (like mine.) What a fantastic organization and a great cause.
You probably have all heard of the March of Dimes. But…did you know that is was established as a foundation benefiting polio research when the disease was on the rise in the U.S.? Created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 (after his personal struggle with polio) and led by mostly volunteers, the organization was initially called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Its large grassroots fundraising campaigns eventually collected enough money to fund research for polio vaccines.
Few diseases have brought about fear and panic in our nation like polio, or poliomyelitis. Polio is an infectious viral disease that affects a person’s nervous system. It was one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century because no one understood how it spread, and children were most frequently affected. Polio was easily transmitted, regardless of geographic region, economic status, or population density, and there was no vaccine available. I can imagine parents had many a sleepless night worrying about their children, and wondering who would be affected next in their community.
Polio peaked in the US in 1952, when there were over 21,000 cases of paralytic cases that year alone.
During the years in which the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) operated, millions of people gave small amounts of money to support both the care of people who contracted polio, and to fund research for prevention and treatment. Radio entertainer Eddie Canter urged listeners to send their spare change to the White House to be used by the NFIP in the fight against polio. The NFIP eventually changed its name to…you guessed it…the March of Dimes.
Finally on April 12, 1955, it was announced that a vaccine had been developed to prevent polio. Following widespread vaccination across the country, reported cases quickly diminished, and today, complete eradication is within reach – endemic polio now only exists in just three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria). The vaccine, largely funded by donations from the general public, essentially wiped out the disease. Talk about everyone chipping in for a good cause! However, the story doesn’t end there. We are still at risk of losing progress in the fight against polio unless we get serious about immunizations for everyone. Click here to read about the alert issued just this week by the World Health Organization, calling current numbers of polio a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
So, as I “marched for babies” last weekend with my 10-month old, I felt honored to be supporting an organization with such an incredible legacy and drive to help others. Today, the March of Dimes’ slogan is “saving babies, together.” I thought about the number of babies and children the polio vaccine alone has saved, and it took my breath away. I think President Roosevelt would be proud!
The CDC recommends children get four doses of IPV, ideally at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 through 18 months; then a booster dose at age 4 through 6 years. Ensure your child has been properly vaccinated.
For childhood, adolescent and adult immunization schedules, as well as resources regarding vaccine-preventable diseases, check out the resources page on The Immunization Partnership’s website: www.immunizeusa.org/resources/.