October 21, 2021 - One would be forgiven for thinking that this was David Rudder’s description of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the world renowned Trinidadian musician was relaying his own account of the last outbreak of polio in Trinidad and Tobago. The 1972 outbreak led to the hospitalization of more than 200 people with various forms of paralysis. Eleven children under the age of six died. Rudder, who now lives in Ontario, Canada, was 19 at the time.
“Among my friends, we didn’t display much fear. In hindsight, that was our bravado – the way we coped with what was happening,” Rudder told PAHO Caribbean. “I remember the great Lord Kitchener and other calypsonians recorded the fact that we didn’t have Carnival [until May that year].”
“Carnival is a time when you could become who you want to be. It’s very important, not only to Trinidadians, but to the world,”said Rudder, celebrated internationally for his unmistakable rhythms and poetic lyrics in iconic songs such as “The Hammer”, “Bacchanal Lady”, “Calypso Music”, “Ganges and the Nile”, “Haiti”, “Rally Round the West Indies”.
That 1972 outbreak did not have to happen. Polio vaccines were introduced to the world in 1955 (via injection) and 1961 (oral). Despite several government-led vaccination campaigns, however, by December 1971, fewer than 10% of children in Trinidad four years old and under, had received even a single dose of the vaccine.
So, at the height of the outbreak, the government launched a mass vaccination campaign between January and February 1972, with around 800 people staffing more than 300 vaccination centers. As a result of that campaign, 81% of children under the age of six and close to 85% of children seven to twelve years old, were vaccinated.