Manitoba·Point of View

'Our parents didn't have a choice': Vaccinate your children, polio survivors plead

The first polio vaccines came too late to help those affected by major outbreaks in the early 20th century, says the Post Polio Network (Manitoba). But today's parents have no excuses for not getting their kids vaccinated.

Polio vaccines came too late to stop outbreaks, says the Post-Polio Network; today's parents have no excuses

An old black and white image of a doctor, kneeling down, and injecting a needle with the polio vaccine into the arm of a young boy, standing in front of him.
Polio vaccines arrived in the mid-1950s, but were too late to prevent major outbreaks at the time in Winnipeg and Manitoba. Now, parents have a choice about vaccinating their kids — but some are making the wrong one, says the Manitoba branch of the Post-Polio Network. (CBC Archives)

Our parents didn't have a choice.

Today's parents do. But some are making the wrong one.

Today, a lot of people receive their news using social media — and not traditional media sources.

Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of false information and misinformed groups, such as the so-called "anti-vaxxers." 

Although concerns regarding vaccinations (e.g. the claim they cause autism) have been debunked by science and medical specialists, people who do not believe in vaccinations refuse to vaccinate their children.

This leaves them open to major communicable diseases that can have lifetime repercussions.

We, as polio survivors, live every day with a multitude of issues. 

Many of us spent childhood months in hospitals, some living in "iron lungs" and being treated with measures that were unproven, in hopes of helping us return to our homes and families.

Many of those fortunate ones who survived today live with post-polio syndrome, which echoes the symptoms of the original virus. Some are able to maintain mobility, though sometimes with  crutches and walkers. Others are confined to wheelchairs. Others live with debilitating pain, fatigue, breathing and swallowing troubles.

The first poliomyelitis vaccine was developed in the mid-1950s — but not in time to prevent major outbreaks at the time in Winnipeg and Manitoba. 

Not in time to give anxious parents the choice to vaccinate against the dreaded virus.

A Winnipeg physician treats a young polio patient in this 1953 photo. Thousands were affected by major polio outbreaks in Winnipeg and Manitoba in the first decades of the 20th century. (University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections)

The first major outbreak in Manitoba occurred in 1928, and the last major outbreak occurred in 1953. 

In total, the number of reported cases during that time period was over 5,500. More than 2,000 cases of polio were reported in Winnipeg alone. To put that in perspective, the population of Winnipeg in 1953 was 234,000.

The numbers are shocking and show how an unvaccinated community can be ravaged by a single communicable disease. 

Many provinces in Canada are now legislating to have compulsory vaccinations for school-aged children. 

Manitoba has not. 

At their 2018 annual general meeting, the Manitoba School Boards Association voted against a motion that would have made vaccinations compulsory.

In Ontario, where school-aged vaccination is legislated, a group of parents wants to challenge it in court

No child or adult should have to live with the threat of a lifetime with a disability (or death) due to the lack of a vaccination.

We implore everyone to ensure that your children and you are safe — get vaccinated

Our parents didn't have a choice. You do.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Post-Polio Network (Manitoba) Inc. was established in 1986 and is a non-profit, non-government organization. The organization serves as a support group and information centre for polio survivors throughout Manitoba.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?