Anyone who remembers the two polio outbreaks in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s will understand the importance of a strong vaccination programme, says Barrie Smith.

Barrie is chairman of the Ethel Gray Charitable Trust and says it is working hard to get the vaccination message out in the community.

The trust recently funded the cost of having a Taranaki District Health Board car sign written with immunisation messages, and Barrie says they hope the car, which will be based in South Taranaki, will help remind people of the importance of vaccination.

"It is a concern to our trustees, and many members of the medical profession that there are still people in our midst who are choosing not to vaccinate."


Barrie says vaccination is a fitting campaign for the Ethel Gray Charitable Trust to get behind.

"Ethel Gray was a courageous and well-respected nurse who worked at the Stratford Hospital in the 1940s. In 1948 she contracted polio from a young patient. Despite having been put in an iron lung, she sadly succumbed to the disease four days later."

It was not long after the two polio outbreaks in the 40s and 50s that a vaccine was developed, says Barrie.

"If it had been developed sooner, Ethel might not have died."

Not everyone who contracted polio died of it, some survived but have spent their lives dealing with the results of the disease, adds Barrie.

"Shirley Hazlewood, QSM, a fellow trustee, contracted the disease when she was just 13 months old. Ever since then she has endured the consequences of this hideous disease."
The trust's main aim is to encourage all New Zealanders to immunise to protect themselves and their children from diseases such as polio, he says.

"While over 90 per cent of New Zealanders do immunise their babies, there are still some children left unvaccinated and at risk."

Barrie says the Ethel Gray Charitable Trust came into being in December 2015 following the winding up of the Taranaki Post-Polio Group which Shirley had co-ordinated for 22 years.

"After the group closed, members of the group, including Shirley, got together to publish a book containing their own stories of the effect polio has had on their lives."

The first print run of the book, called We Can Do Anything, was sponsored by Barbara Williams (nee Forbes), a founder member of the Ethel Gray Charitable Trust. Barbara was one of Ethel's nurse companions and today can still recall Ethel's last few days.

Barrie says thanks to funding from the TSB Community Trust, another 48 books are being reprinted to be donated to medical centres, doctor surgeries and libraries in the region.
"We also recently donated 15 books to the Taranaki District Health Board to be placed in all their waiting rooms."

Barrie says copies of the book are also available from Perera's Paper Power in Stratford.