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‘It makes me feel angry, disappointed, and sad,’ B.C. polio survivor says of vaccine refusal

Campbell River resident wishes she could talk to anti-vaxxers about her struggles
Polio survivor Beverley Gill. Contributed photo

COVID-19 is often compared to and contrasted with the 1918 influenza pandemic, but the two are not the only infectious diseases to have created havoc around the world in the last century.

Sunday, Oct. 24 will mark World Polio Day, where people will remember another vicious virus, which crippled tens of thousands of Canadians before being stopped in its tracks.

One of its victims is now living in Campbell River.

Beverley Gill was two-years-old when she contracted polio, which used to be called “infantile paralysis,” or “the crippler.” Both her legs and her right arm were affected by the nerve-damaging virus, resulting in Gill spending most of her childhood in-and-out of hospital.

There is no cure for the disease, and no treatment.

“You just had to deal with the after-affects,” Gill said. “I’ve walked on crutches my whole life.”

READ MORE: I recall the relief of terrified mothers when the polio vaccine appeared

READ MORE: Polio: When vaccines and re-emergence were just as daunting

Jonas Salk’s vaccine, which can prevent infection in the first place, did not become available until about five years after Gill was already infected.

Despite her many challenges, she made the best of her lot in life.

“Luckily I’m a very stubborn person,” she said, referencing her Scottish heritage. “So I went and did everything everybody else does to the best of my ability.

“I attended university, I married, I had a child, I travelled, and I worked. I basically lived.”

Polio has been all but eradicated across the world since Gill contracted it in the early 1950s. Children are immunized with a vaccine four times in infancy, and receive a booster shot between the ages of four and six.

A decades-long push to bring awareness to the fight against the disease has resulted in polio cases being reduced by 99.9 per cent globally.

Gill noted she wished the same awareness was prevalent for the battle against COVID-19. She said she finds it hard to comprehend people refusing the current vaccines available.

“It makes me feel angry, disappointed, and sad,” she said.

“I wish I could talk to some of them, and tell them about some of my experiences because they could be condemning themselves to a similar situation – no-one knows what the after-affects (of COVID-19) are going to be.

Gill said misinformation seems to be at the root of the refusals.

“For some reason people don’t trust the science, or medical experts,” she said. “They’d rather look at social media and take that as gospel.”

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