Polio Awareness Month: Coca-Cola’s History and a Personal Story

October is Polio Awareness Month and the 24th was World Polio Day, focusing attention on continuing efforts to totally eradicate the disease.  I have three polio stories I wanted to share, one personal and two about Coca-Cola’s role in distributing the vaccine.

During the summer of 1946, at the age of 6, my father contracted polio.  While he never ended up in an iron lung, he was hospitalized and was totally paralyzed for several weeks.  He was very fortunate and the feeling slowly began to return to his limbs.  Over the next six months he had to re-learn how to walk and use his muscles. The therapy was successful and he was able to return to school.  The only long term impact of the illness was that one of his thumbs still has a limited range of motion. Nine years after my father contracted polio, Jonas Salk and his team developed the first vaccine, offering the world a means to eliminate the illness.

"polio awarness month"

Picking up vaccine from plane

The Coca-Cola Company and our bottlers in Latin America were very active in efforts to distribute the polio vaccine.  I wanted to focus on two such events.  The first took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1964.  The Coca-Cola office and our local bottlers were part of a larger group of volunteers involved in a mass immunization effort.  Due to the perishable nature of the vaccine, over 1 million doses were shipped from Belgium and had to be quickly distributed throughout the province.  The Coca-Cola bottler put his trucking fleet to work to get the vaccines delivered to the various immunization stations. During the 16 hours of the vaccine drive they delivered 1 million doses to 280 stations which were immediately administered to the kids.

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Vaccine delivered from Belgium

In Peru, January 23, 1966 was identified as the day for a mass immunization, but this time on a national basis.  Once again, our local bottling partner was part of the team to distribute the vaccine around the country as over 2,900,000 vaccines were given to kids between the ages of 2 months to 7 years old.

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Giving Vaccine in Peru

These are just a few of the stories about the role Coca-Cola played in spreading the vaccine, it was due to programs like these that the disease has been contained as much as it has – and for that we should all be thankful.  I know my father is.  ^TR

Ted Ryan is Director of Communications, Archives Department at The Coca-Cola Company.

For more details on Coke’s involvement with Polio Awareness Month and even more history, check out our Heritage blog Coca-Cola Conversations.