When was polio last in Europe? If you guessed 2002, the year the region was certified polio-free, you’re wrong. 

The last time polio affected a child in Europe was 2015. Two Ukrainian children were diagnosed with paralytic polio, and that likely means that many more were infected and didn’t show symptoms. At least one Western news outlet deemed the outbreak “crazy” — but the reality is that no place on Earth is safe from polio until the disease is eradicated everywhere. 

Ukraine had fully vaccinated only 50 percent of its children against polio, and low immunization rates are a recipe for an outbreak. In this case, a rare mutation in the weakened strain used in the oral polio vaccine was able to spread because so many children had not been vaccinated. To stop it from progressing, the country needed to administer 6 million vaccines through an emergency program. 

“Rotary was there at the beginning of the global effort to eradicate polio,” says International PolioPlus Committee Chair Michael K. McGovern. “It would be unfortunate if Rotary isn’t there at the finish line. We’ve done too much; we’ve made too much progress to walk away before we finish.” 

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