OTD: Canada sends Barbados life-saving polio vaccine

On today’s date in 1963, the Government of Canada shipped 50,000 doses of a life-saving polio vaccine to Barbados.

The gift is listed in the “Public Accounts of Canada for the Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 1964,” a government document that outlines the “purchase and shipment of trivalent oral polio vaccine to the Government of Barbados as a gift.”

Polio epidemics ravaged North America leading up the middle of the 20th century. For parents, polio was a dreaded disease that could steal a child’s life or leave a child permanently paralyzed. It “crippled tens of thousands of Canadians until the Salk vaccine was introduced in 1955,” according to the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA).

“Polio (poliomyelitis) is an infectious disease caused by a virus. Polio can strike people at any age but children under age five are most at risk,” reads an article, “The story of polio,” on the CPHA website.

“The widespread application of the Salk vaccine (introduced in 1955) and the Sabin oral vaccine (introduced in 1962) eventually brought polio under control in the early 1970s. Canada was certified ‘polio free’ in 1994.”

The stamp was designed by Debbie Adams and printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company.


In 2005, Canada Post issued a multi-coloured 50-cent stamp (Scott #2120) as part of its “Polio Vaccination” issue.

The domestic-rate stamp marked the 50th anniversary of Canada’s program of universal polio vaccination. Printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company on Tullis Russell coated paper using eight-colour lithography, the stamps have general tagging along each side and were issued in panes of 16 stamps, each of which measures 35 millimetres by 48 millimetres (horizontal).

An official first-day cover was also cancelled in Ottawa.

“We didn’t want a sombre message,” said Liz Wong, manager of stamp design and production at Canada Post. “We wanted to focus on the benefits that exist now. It’s something to celebrate.”

Toronto graphic designer Debbie Adams hoped to create a positive image in celebration of the polio vaccine and realized she needed to talk about success, “and that success,” she said, “is really all about children.”

“This stamp features colourful silhouettes of six children, three girls and three boys of various ages, jumping and playing,” said Adams. “It illustrates in a positive way that, as a result of the polio vaccine, children are free from the fear of contracting this debilitating disease.”

An official first-day cover was serviced with an Ottawa cancel.

A pair of discarded leg braces serve as a reminder of what life was like before the vaccine.

“The reality of 3-D crutches cast off in a corner of the stamp, as though tossed aside, juxtaposed with the silhouette of children playing raucously, with one image and colour leading into the next, makes an interesting contrast,” she added.

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