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In a bid to inspire more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, polio survivors have shared their stories of the years when the highly contagious disease was crippling children and spreading around the world.

For the survivors, the current pandemic brings back unsettling memories.

From 1944 to 1955, polio killed more than 1,000 people in Australia and infected hundreds of thousands of others.

Poliomyelitis, commonly shortened to polio, is a highly infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and weakens muscles, mostly affecting children under the age of five.

Jenny Jones contracted polio when she was five years old, but had missed out on getting the jab by just five weeks.

“I was a very active, healthy strong girl,” she said.

“I ended up in hospital for eight weeks, I couldn’t walk when I came out, I missed most of year one [at school].”

Polio outbreaks came in waves, mostly in summer months.

Ian Holding terrified his father when he caught the disease as a toddler.

“He was sitting in a waiting room with a child of two that couldn’t stand up,” Ian said.

“It upset him a lot. We weren’t allowed to visit anyone, but dad was still allowed to go to work.”

After the first polio vaccine was developed in 1955, widespread vaccination saw two of the three variants eradicated globally.

“A van went around the schools and you all lined up,” Jenny recalled.

“It went from 399 cases a year to two a year, so the impact of that vaccination was enormous,” Ian added.

Even then, people needed convincing about getting the jab.

With the Delta variant spreading around NSW, getting the population fully vaccinated has become more urgent.

The focus is shifting towards getting young people vaccinated, with experts calling for children to be included in the vaccine discussion.

Just as polio survivors have had to contend with lasting symptoms, survivors of COVID may have to manage ‘long COVID’ and other unknown symptoms going into the future.

As for Jenny and Ian, they were quick to get the COVID vaccine after missing out on the polio vaccine as children.

They hope their experiences with polio can serve as a cautionary tale for those worried about or considering refusing the vaccine.

“I had my second [COVID] jab yesterday,” Ian said.

“And that makes me happy, because that protects me, my family, and the rest of the country.”

This article first appeared in Over60.

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