WATERTOWN — The Watertown Rotary Club is once again raising donations for the Rotary Foundation to pay for polio vaccinations in an effort to eradicate the disease.
To raise the expected $5,000, the club will host the “Swimarathon 2021” from 9 to 11 a.m. Feb. 27 at the Watertown Family YMCA in downtown. The difference this year, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is the event will be socially distant at the YMCA with just three people allowed in the pool at a time, each in their own lane.
“It was a difficult decision to make to do this this year, but on the other hand, how could we not?” said Donald Klug, a longtime member of the local Rotary Club for more than 30 years and a past president. “We’re just so close to eradicating this disease.
“And quite frankly, we know that if we don’t, in 10 years you could have another 200,000 cases of polio each year that could cripple children,” he added.
The fundraising effort is in response to a challenge set forth by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International, where donations amassed for Rotary International will be matched.
Participating swimmers are asked to seek out donations from friends, neighbors and fellow Rotarians, all of whom will be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a two-to-one basis, which means that if the club raises $5,000, the total donation to Rotary International will be $15,000 — which represents 25,000 polio eradication dosages at 60 cents per dosage.
All donations will go to Rotary International to help reach the goal of $50 million.
Swimmers at this year’s event will be Larry Sorel, Beth Linderman, Howie Ganter, Jeff Wood, Jeff Barnard, Diana Woodhouse, Don Woodhouse and Jeff Combs.
The cost to immunize a child costs 60 cents. With each $1,000 in donations, 1,666 children will receive immunization through oral vaccines. Last year, the local swimarathon fundraiser brought in $6,800 to go toward the Rotary’s contribution.
“I expect donations may drop off this year, but I hope not,” Mr. Klug said. “I think what I’m seeing is that people are willing to donate towards a cause that is bigger than themselves, that helps people they don’t even know. And I think that’s kind of a special thing if you’re able to do something nobody’s going to know about except you.”
Mr. Klug has been coordinating the Watertown fundraiser for the last six years, and the event has been occurring annually for the past eight.
The goal this year, as with every year before, is to raise funds to put toward the eradication of polio. Since the event began in Watertown, it has raised about $30,000 in total.
Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract with those who develop symptoms experiencing paralysis or death. Since the mid 1980s, one of the missions of Rotary International, an organization of more than 33,000 clubs worldwide and 1.2 million members, has been to eradicate this crippling childhood disease around the world.
The Bill Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization have since partnered with Rotary International in the fight. Currently, countries of the world are 99.9% free of polio; only Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been certified polio free.
Even so, it’s crucial to continue working to keep other countries polio-free because if all eradication efforts stop, it’s projected that within 10 years, polio could paralyze as many as 200,000 children each year.
“Polio is paralyzing, it’s life altering — it would become the second human disease that’s ever been eliminated,” Mr. Klug said. “It’s something that people can do with even a small donation of $25. Even smaller than that, it doesn’t matter what it is, but each vaccination cost for a child is 60 cents. One thousand dollars in donations will provide 1,666 children with the vaccine. Where else can you make a contribution that’ll have that kind of a significant impact for that kind of a cost?”