In a morning heavy on symbolism, Gates assumed the polio prevention mantle borne by FDR and inventors of vaccines to stop the mid-20th century scourge that left children weakened, paralyzed and sometimes confined to iron lungs. The event, titled, "Polio Eradication and the Power of Vaccines," began with a welcome from James Roosevelt Jr., a grandson of the 32nd president, who serves as CEO and president of Tufts Health Plan. "Of all of FDR's legacies, the one that resonates the most strongly for me is his commitment to health equity," Roosevelt said. He called the campaign to see every child vaccinated against preventable illnesses "another great chapter of health equity."
In the second row sat Dr. Peter Salk of San Diego, a son of Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the first polio vaccine, an injectable inoculation that used dead polio virus. The younger Salk, scientific director of the Jonas Salk Foundation, spent much of his medical career researching cancer, autoimmune diseases and HIV vaccines with his father. He feels an imperative to finish the job his father started in the 1950s, and to which his father rededicated himself in 1977. "We have to understand that every problem in the world today is our problem also," Salk told ABCNews.com. He described the continued existence of polio as "a sore" that won't heal. But if it finally heals through a concerted international effort, he predicted that milestone would fuel other public health successes.
Seated next to Salk were Debbe Sabin, a registered nurse, and Amy Sabin Horn, who represented their father, Dr. Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine made from live, weakened polio virus. The Sabin vaccine has protected millions of American children and others overseas from polio, although it carries a tiny risk of infection. They sat by Cathy Hively, whose grandfather. Basil O'Connor, FDR's law partner, helped launch the March of Dimes campaign through which Depression-era Americans and Americans today continue to make modest contributions that collectively have provided millions of dollars to stop polio's spread.
Both the Salk and Sabin vaccines are used today and have a role to play in the worldwide push to eradicate polio, those gathered Monday said.
The roster of speakers in a panel discussion that Sawyer moderated included Dr. David Oshinsky, a 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for his book "Polio: An American Story;" Dr. Helen Rees of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and chairwoman of the World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization; Dr. Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute; and Ahmed Ghani, governor of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district and federally administered tribal areas.
De Quadros, who believes polio can be beaten, said it has resurged in regions with scant resources, where "we are not having sufficient funds to apply the tools we do have." Rees said one of the major obstacles to further reducing the number of cases worldwide has been "the quality of our health services in our poorest countries," where there aren't enough people on the ground to provide needed vaccinations.