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Friday, May 15, 2015

Vaccines - first person testimony from eloquent polio survivor

Ann Lee Hussey is the Past District Governor for the Rotary International District 7780, she lives in South Berwick, Maine.  

I was honored to sit beside Ann during the May 11, 2015 public hearing in Augusta at the State House, as we waited to present our testimonies in support of vaccines. An impressive line up of health care givers, nurses, physicians and the public testified before Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, a proven public health prevention to injuries and mortality in children. Thanks Ann!

Ann Lee Hussey 
in support of LD 471 An Act to Improve Childhood Vaccination Rates in Maine
"I am a polio survivor, having contracted polio 3 months after the announcement that the Salk vaccine was effective and before the vaccine was widely distributed."


Joint Standing Committee on Health & Human Services
Room 209, Cross State Office Building, Augusta, Maine
Monday, May 11, 2015, 9:30 a.m.

Good Morning Senator Brakey, Representative Gattine, and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health & Human Services.  I am Ann Lee Hussey and I am a resident of South Berwick.  I am here today to speak in support of L.D. 471, An Act to Improve Childhood Vaccination Rates in Maine and in opposition to L.D. 1076, An Act to Enact the Vaccine Consumer Protection Program.

It is apropos that we should be having this discussion just two weeks following World Immunization Week, April 24-30, a week focused on the global platform to bolster efforts to ensure vaccination coverage for every child and even seniors, no matter where they live.  1 in 5 children are still missing out on routine life-saving immunizations that could prevent 1.5 million deaths each year from preventable diseases.   Today we are a international society – what we do locally ultimately affects others, nationally and globally.

It is also apropos to be here just 4 weeks after celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.  On April 12, 1955 when the news came out of Ann Arbor, Michigan that Dr. Salk’s vaccine was effective, everyone celebrated.  People flooded the streets, tears of joy streaming down their cheeks, sirens and church bells were heard everywhere as parents felt relief that the crippling poliovirus would be stopped.  It was the height of America’s faith in research and science.  Vaccines became a routine part of pediatric care.

This vaccine was one of the largest medical advances in American history and it led to a rapid decline in polio cases primarily in the developed world.  We owe much to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was instrumental in establishing what we know best as the March of Dimes.  Millions of dimes collected by none other than thousands of mothers funded the research and development of Dr. Salk’s injectable polio vaccine. 
The March of Dimes also funded Dr. Sabin’s oral polio vaccine, introduced in 1963, and used globally in the polio eradication efforts.

Fast-forward to today, where in America resistance to vaccines is growing for no sound scientific reason.  We have become a victim of our own success, with a generation who has never witnessed the rampage of diseases known to previous generations, a generation that has enjoyed the benefits and safety of immunizations and now wish to deny this safety net to others.  Out of sight, out of mind seems to rule the day.  Disheartening that as one of the most advanced nations of the world, we are sliding backwards in our basic preventative medicine. 

I am here to remind everyone that these preventable diseases are still prevalent in other parts of the world, opportunistic viruses that are finding their way back to America, seeking all unprotected children. 

I have worked extensively with Rotary International and our partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) for the last 14 years, traveling multiple times to developing countries in Africa and Asia.  This is the largest public-private health initiative in history whose partners are highly educated and experienced and all are working towards stronger health care infrastructure worldwide.  I have seen active outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, meningitis and polio. 

I have witnessed first hand the power of herd immunity, defined as the protection offered to everyone in a community when vaccination rates are high. When enough people are immunized against a given disease, it’s difficult for the disease to gain traction in the community. This herd or community immunity offers some protection to those unable to receive vaccinations for various reasons—including newborns, individuals with chronic illnesses and those with immunosuppressed systems  —by reducing the possibility of an outbreak that could expose them to the disease.  It is this herd immunity that is working so effectively in our efforts to eradicate the poliovirus from the face of the earth and that was instrumental in the eradication of the only human disease thus far to be eradicated, smallpox. 

I am talking about the protection offered to a single person, by the power of millions of others, a power that is the responsibility of all of us.  It’s what we, here in Maine, are especially known for, Mainers helping each other. 

Our polio campaigns will often include other immunizations such as Measles and Pertussis. I have seen mothers run to be sure their child will receive these vaccines and have watched older siblings bringing younger siblings.  Why?  Because they see children suffer from serious complications or children that die from the diseases they so desperately want to prevent in their own children.  Among these are the poorest of the poor, where vaccine accessibility is not always present, unlike the advantages of mothers for their children here in Maine. 

Some of the most deadly childhood diseases, such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, Pertussis and others for which vaccines are available and can protect children from illness and death.  Measles remains one of the leading causes of deaths in young children.

From the 2014 Global Immunization Data compiled by the World Health Organization, the total number of children who died from diseases preventable by vaccines is 1.5 million.  About 29% of deaths in children 1-59 months of age are vaccine preventable.

I am a polio survivor, having contracted polio 3 months after the announcement that the Salk vaccine was effective and before the vaccine was widely distributed.  I was originally paralyzed from the waist down and I feel blessed to stand before you today after many surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy throughout my life.  I do not have time to cover my personal story but know that once you have polio, it lives with you forever and continues to provide challenges daily.   I refer you to the article I submitted with my testimony titled, Polio’s Second Act”. 

Every step I take is my reminder to finish the job of polio eradication and drives my passion to have healthy children everywhere; it is also my reminder of why vaccines are so essential.  Every child you know, every child you see should be your reminder.  There is no room for complacency.

I fear for the day that a child in Maine dies from a preventable disease.  If we follow our current path, the needless loss of children’s lives will undoubtedly occur.  I ask you all, what will a mother say to a child who becomes permanently deaf due to measles infection or to a child whose sibling loses his/her life to a vaccine preventable disease when they ask the question, “Why was this allowed to happen?”  What will your answer be?  

Polio and other viruses are but a plane ride away. 

Thank you for listening to me today and for considering my views on these bills.  I will try to respond to any questions you may have.

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