• The British Polio Fellowship

Covid Versus Polio – the Media Campaign

Trying to promote Polio, our members, the Fellowship and our experiences during the lockdown was a bit like Skegness Town FC playing Liverpool – no contest! The main problem was because we were ill over 55 years ago. We, the survivors, are the only people who can remember just what we went through. Immediately the statistics and details of Coronavirus were published, the media went into a frenzy about the UK never having faced a pandemic before! So our mission was to educate them about Polio and the grim days of the 1930s/40s and 50s showing similarities between then and now. A disease which did not discriminate although, as with Polio, Covid does seem to have targeted inner city areas and those with underlying medical problems and older people. The rapid spread of both diseases with no firm evidence as to how it spread. The similarities of acute pain, fever, breathing difficulties, loss of mobility and strength and the need for isolation, respirators (we had the iron lung), shielding of families, schools closed, businesses closed, swimming pools, cinemas and theaters closed. The list is endless and, on behalf of our own members, we felt we must speak out to emphasis that Covid was not a unique pandemic and that perhaps we Polio survivors could be of use in understanding current problems.

In June I wrote to at least 12 letters to the newspapers on your behalf, only three were published but not bad when you consider that the national newspapers receive thousands of letters daily. However, there were some other letters concerning Polio spotted by Clare Maplethorpe of Bridgenorth and Karen Heywood of Glossop (both have been contacted by us). Many thanks to Jane Nation for feeding us Polio related articles mainly from The Guardian and to Angela Couling, South East Kent Branch Chair, who picked up on our publicity. Please let Central Office know if you gained publicity in your area.

Getting onto national radio, however, was also fraught and I have spent countless hours hanging on to get through to BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live. When they did answer, the call takers were mainly young people who often had not heard of Polio and could not get the gist of our message. I did manage to speak several times, however, and Chris Smith, a senior virologist at Addenbrookes Hospital, who mentioned Polio many times, helped us in our campaign. A near breakthrough in our efforts came when Professor Nick Hart, who leads the Lane Fox Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital, posed the question “Is Coronavirus this generation’s Polio?” This had huge publicity as Professor Hart had volunteered to go onto the Covid wards and was, with another Dr Nick, credited with having saved the life of Boris Johnson. Professor Hart was interviewed many times and kept pointing out the similarities between the two pandemics stressing Polio every time.

I was at last booked to speak at length on the evening of Saturday 20 June on BBC 5 Live. However, the shocking stabbing incident in Reading wiped this out! Together with our Central Office staff we will continue to champion our cause. Sadly, when you do get through to a call taker, all they want to do is ask you controversial political questions or if you saw people dying or trying to make things sensational – a sad sign of our times.

David Mitchell

National Chairman

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