Vaccines have prevented about 10 million deaths from disease since 1963, researchers estimate. Rotary members know the power of vaccination well: The oral polio vaccine has helped bring cases of wild polio down 99.9 percent since 1988, with the virus remaining endemic in only two countries today. And now, as COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed around the world, the experience and knowledge that Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have gained are helping protect communities from the pandemic.

Rotary members are getting involved in supporting the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in some of the same ways they’ve been working to end polio — by raising awareness for vaccination in their communities, supporting health workers, combating misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, and advocating for fair and equal vaccine distribution in vulnerable communities. Clubs can partner with local health agencies and, where applicable, with our polio eradication partners WHO and UNICEF at the country level.

World Immunization Week, celebrated the last week of April every year, will take on outsize importance this year. As the world looks toward immunizations to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, we look back at the fascinating history of these lifesaving medicines.

Share the efforts of our club or district — and see what other Rotarians are doing — to support COVID-19 vaccination and prevent the disease’s spread at Rotary Showcase. Learn more about Rotary International’s efforts at

Erin Biba is a science journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired, the Daily Beast, Popular Science, and the BBC.

This story originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Rotary magazine. 


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