Small altruistic acts collectively have a powerful impact in disease prevention.

Thousands die each day around the world from infectious diseases which are easily preventable. If asked to name how many preventive vaccinations you have had, how many could you list? There are at least 10.

In my lifetime there have been major achievements like the eradication of smallpox. But in my childhood there were serious problems from diseases like TB and Polio. People with TB were committed to sanitoria to shield the public from them until effective antibiotics were found. Polio ruined many lives until a mass vaccination programme was undertaken and was a major concern as I grew up.

Polio is almost eradicated now but still requires mass vaccinations where outbreaks occur. These are now in politically and geographically difficult areas to reach.

Perhaps inspired by the success with smallpox Rotary spearheaded the campaign at a time when there were about 1000 cases a day around the world causing paralysis and death. Today the numbers are down by 99.9%Over the last 35 years, Rotary members, working with communities around the world, have contributed more than US$2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the fight to end polio.

Inspired in part by Rotary’s volunteer commitment and fundraising success, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988.This remarkable partnership which includes Rotary, World Health Organization, UNICEF, the US Centre for Disease Control & Prevention and, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI the Vaccine Alliance. These organisations work alongside governments of the world to end polio.

The Gates Foundation doubles any money collected through Rotary for the eradication programme. Because of the efforts of Rotary and our partners, nearly 19 million people who would otherwise have been paralysed are walking, and more than 1.5 million people are alive who would otherwise have died.

Despite there only being a handful of cases left in the world, continued campaigning, health worker training and vaccination programmes are essential to stop the disease returning and ensuring the world is certified polio-free. Over 400 million children still have to receive their polio vaccinations by the GPEI partners multiple times every single year in more than 50 countries.

Rotary members continue to be key players in many aspects of the polio programme including on the ground in a number of countries as well as fundraising and advocacy. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases worldwide every year within a decade.

What we have achieved together

On Wednesday January 20th I received a request to help with volunteers for Covid vaccination centres in Folkestone. There were no marshals for the Civic Centre and there was no date for the site at Debenhams. Rotary nationally had been preparing to help through the network of over 1700 clubs in the UK. Channel Rotary asked me to lead our effort.

My first call was to Barry Pluck at the Shepway Sports Trust who immediately agreed to help and sent a message to the 43 sports associated clubs asking for volunteers. The response was immediate and within the hour emails were flooding in from all the various clubs. Derek Harris OBE, another member of the Channel club, started combining all the emails into a database. Before the end of the day there were almost 100 volunteers on the list. Thank you all.

Dr Terry Cook-Davies agreed to join our small team. Terry is President of the Folkestone club and an internationally respected expert in project management. His role was/is to establish the booking system. A temporary system delivered marshals to the Civic Centre the following day. Volunteers kept volunteering, Derek compiling and Terry booking. It was just so rewarding to be able to help.

On Friday we were asked to help with the centre run by the NHS at the old Debenhams which now travels under the strange name of Folca -I think! It was so good to be able to say yes, expand the booking system and help immediately.

Terry’s system, by now much more sophisticated was easily able to cope. Bill Flavell, a very able businessman, joined our team to supervise the rota. Bill and I have worked on many projects in our town over the years. Our system now enable 35 volunteers every day between the two sites to be part of the great national vaccination effort.

Today Derek has over 250 volunteers on his spreadsheet, Terry sits at his control centre and Bill ensures that all slots are filled and looks after all the Risk Assessments and other boring stuff like that.

The Civic Centre vaccinates 500 people a day and Debenhams 1000. They must be cheaper at Debenhams or perhaps there is a deal!

The links developed by the Channel Club in running the Channel Triathlon were invaluable contacts to help our project to such a quick success. Thanks to the support of the Shepway Sports Trust, Jenner Construction, the District Council, Sainsburys for car parking, the Clifton Hotel for coffee at the Civic Centre; help so willingly given. The Channel Triathlon, http://www.channeltri.com even during the pandemic, raised about £11000 which was donated in part to mental health charities locally and the rest to school hardship funds and IT to help young people with schoolwork.

Rotary is an organisation of business and professional people who use their skills to help in the community. Coordination volunteers is a great example of how we can help. If you are interested in joining, look at http://www.channelrotary.org.uk or send me an email

Well done and thank you.

Joe Sullivan