Club Information
Welcome to the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay - Celebrating Over 37 Years Serving Homer and the World
Homer-Kachemak Bay

Four Way Test: True, Fair, Goodwill & Beneficial to All

We meet In Person
Thursdays at 12:00 PM
Best Western Bidarka Inn
575 Sterling Hwy
PO Box 377
Homer, AK 99603
United States of America
Currently meetings are being held both "in person" and by Zoom.
Brenda Shelden District Governor Nominee Designate 2024-25
Dear Alaska Rotary Club Presidents and Rotary members:  
On behalf of District Governor Cheryl Metiva, this e-mail is notification that on Monday October 11, 2021, the 2021-22 District 5010 Governor Nominating Committee selected Brenda Shelden to serve as District Governor for D5010 in 2024-2025. The requisite challenge period has passed with no Clubs challenging the selection.
A past President and member in good standing of the Palmer Rotary Club, Brenda holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Her current Rotary roles include D5010 Assistant Governor (2018-2022), D5010 RYLA Chair, Excess Reserves Committee Member, D5010 PETS Trainer, and Mat-Su Valley Interact Club Advisor (2020-2022) in addition to many other roles in past years.
Brenda and her husband, Troy, moved to Alaska in 2000, and in January will celebrate their 29th anniversary. Their daughter, Mason, is a junior in college and son, Ryan, is a senior in the Mat-Su Valley. The family loves Alaska and makes time to fish, camp, hike and travel. Brenda says “We are dedicated to serving others and collectively have hundreds of hours of community service."
Please join me in congratulating Brenda as our new District Governor Nominee Designate. We look forward to a strong future of the District under Brenda's leadership.
I would like to thank the other members of the nominating Committee, PDG Brad Gamble (Susitna), PDG Joe Kashi (Soldotna), PDG Maynard Gross (Homer-Kachemak Bay), Jamie Letterman (Juneau 58 (Degree) Innovators)), Jo Kuchle (Fairbanks), Jack Timm (Susitna), and DG Cheryl Metiva (Ex Officio).
Sincerely Yours in Rotary Service,
N. Diane Fejes
D5010 Governor Nominating Committee Chair for 2021-22

Dear Rotarian,Greetings from RID 3181!We are conducting an International motorcycle ride/four wheel drive event called Ride for Rotary.The last 4 editions of Ride for Rotary was a great success to which 90 participants from 15 different countries attended and had a wonderful experience. We have contributed close to $100,000 to TRF from last 4 editionsThis year we are planning to make it bigger and better by adding a luxury bus as well. Our aim is to promote International fellowship, exchange of Rotary views & the funds raised by this event will go to The Rotary Foundation.Event will be from 15th to 30th January 2022.A 12 days event commencing from Mangalore (India) that can either be a motorcycle ride, a four wheel drive or travel in the bus.The ride will cover 4 Rotary Districts, many Rotary Clubs and the route map will be starting from Mangalore - Kundapura - Dandeli - Goa - Hampi - Shimoga - Hassan - Kushalnagar - Mysore 

Below are the Event Highlights

  • Motorcycle participants will be provided with riding jackets, gloves, knee guards along with motorcycles & fuel.  
  • Participants will have to carry their own helmets, as size varies and may not be comfortable with the ones provided here.
  • Mahindra Scorpio or equivalent to it will be provided for four wheel participants along with fuel. 2 participants will have to share the drive.
  • A luxury bus with A/C Coach will be provided for participants who opt for Bus travelling along with Motorcycles & Car convoy.
  • 3 Star plus Hotels / Resorts with well sanitized rooms will be provided as accommodations along the route.
  • Food will be provided in clean, sanitized places with a combination of both continental & local food delicacies .
  • The route is very well planned to cover various landscapes like world famous  Beaches, Hill stations,  World heritage Sites, Temples, Churches, Reserve  Forests etc .
  • Folk music, dance and other cultural activities will be arranged to showcase Indian culture & heritage during the evening meets.
  • Various Rotary clubs & service projects will be involved & showcased to exchange Rotary views & vision.
  • A Qualified Medical Assistant will be part of the crew with 24×7 medical assistance available throughout the event.
  • Certified Mechanics will be part of the crew for any automobile breakdowns.
  • All Covid norms will be strictly followed throughout the event.
  • All Crew & Committee is Vaccinated
  • In case of event cancellation, complete fee will be refunded deducting the applied tax.

Participation Fee includes: For Motorcycle: Food, Stay, Riding gears, Motorcycle with fuel | For 4 wheel Drive: Food, Stay, Vehicle with fuel | For Luxury Bus: Food, Stay, Bus travel

We have already 13 Participants regsitered from UK, France, Poland & US.We request you to register for this event and make the event a great success.Please visit our website FAQ Section: for more details


Team Ride for Rotary

© RideforRotary. ALL Rights Reserved.


Informed Consent to Participate in Research

Information to Consider Before Taking Part in this Research Study

Title: Groundwater Vulnerability in Coupled Human-Natural Systems. 

Study # 002870

Overview:  You are being asked to take part in a research study. The information in this document should help you to decide if you would like to participate. The sections in this Overview provide the basic information about the study. More detailed information is provided in the remainder of the document.

Study Staff:  This study is being led by Edgar J. Guerron Orejuela who is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida in the School of Geosciences. This person is called the Principal Investigator. He is being guided in this research by Dr. Mark Rains, Dr. Kai Rains, and Dr. Shawn Landry. Other approved research staff may act on behalf of the Principal Investigator.

Study Details:  This study is being conducted in the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands. The purpose of the study is to document what residents of the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands value about living in this geographic area, assess their knowledge and understanding of groundwater systems in their region, and record their perceptions of groundwater vulnerability due to anthropogenic impacts in the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands. To obtain this information, research staff will conduct a 13-question survey targeted to all members of each of the following stakeholder groups:  Resources managers, environmental NGOs, landowners, and industry representatives of the Kenai Peninsula lowlands.

Participants You are being asked to take part in this study because you identify yourself as a member of at least one of the stakeholder groups mentioned above. We are interested in learning about the perceived value of groundwater for members of these stakeholder groups in the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands.

Voluntary Participation:  Your participation is voluntary. You do not have to participate and may stop your participation at any time. There will be no penalties or loss of benefits or opportunities if you do not participate or decide to stop once you start. Your decision to participate or not to participate will not affect your job status, employment record, employee evaluations, or advancement opportunities.

Benefits, Compensation, and Risk:  We do not know if you will receive any benefit from your participation. There is no cost to participate. You will not be compensated for your participation. This research is considered minimal risk.  Minimal risk means that study risks are the same as the risks you face in daily life. 

Confidentiality:  Even if we publish the findings from this study, we will keep your study information private and confidential. Anyone with the authority to look at your records must keep them confidential.

Why are you being asked to take part?

Given the low-regulatory landscape in the Kenai lowlands, it is imperative that members of the stakeholder groups collaborate to share and exchange their knowledge and priorities, as well as make common information accessible to all stakeholders to facilitate fruitful conversations and allow for better and more-informed local decision-making.   

Study Procedures

If you take part in this study, you will be asked to answer a survey that contains 13 questions. The survey will be conducted online using Qualtrics software and is expected to take the participants between 20-30 minutes to complete the survey. Data collected in this survey is anonymous.

Alternatives / Voluntary Participation / Withdrawal

You do not have to participate in this research study.

You should only take part in this study if you want to volunteer. You should not feel that there is any pressure to take part in the study. You are free to participate in this research or withdraw at any time.  There will be no penalty or loss of benefits you are entitled to receive if you stop taking part in this study. Decision to participate or not to participate will not affect your job status.  

Benefits and Risks

We are unsure if you will receive any benefits by taking part in this research study. This research is considered to be minimal risk.

You will receive no payment or other compensation for taking part in this study.

Privacy and Confidentiality

We will do our best to keep your records private and confidential. We cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality. Your personal information may be disclosed if required by law. Certain people may need to see your study records. The only people who will be allowed to see these records are:

·       The research team, including the Principal Investigator, study coordinator, and all other research staff.

·       Certain government and university people who need to know more about the study. For example, individuals who provide oversight on this study may need to look at your records. This is done to make sure that we are doing the study in the right way. They also need to make sure that we are protecting your rights and your safety. 

·       Any agency of the federal, state, or local government that regulates this research. This includes the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Office for Human Research Protection (OHRP).

·       The USF Institutional Review Board (IRB) and its related staff who have oversight responsibilities for this study, and staff in USF Research Integrity and Compliance

Your information or samples collected as part of the research, even if identifiers are removed, will NOT be used or distributed for future research studies.

It is possible, although unlikely, that unauthorized individuals could gain access to your responses because you are responding online. Confidentiality will be maintained to the degree permitted by the technology used. No guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the Internet.  However, your participation in this online survey involves risks similar to a person’s everyday use of the Internet. If you complete and submit an anonymous survey and later request your data be withdrawn, this may or may not be possible as the researcher may be unable to extract anonymous data from the database.

Contact Information

If you have any questions, concerns or complaints about this study, call Edgar J. Guerron Orejuela at 941-713-2606. If you have questions about your rights, complaints, or issues as a person taking part in this study, call the USF IRB at (813) 974-5638 or contact the IRB by email at


We may publish what we learn from this study. If we do, we will not let anyone know your name. We will not publish anything else that would let people know who you are. You can print a copy of this consent form for your records. 

I freely give my consent to take part in this study. I understand that by proceeding with this survey, I am agreeing to take part in research, and I am 18 years of age or older.


Edgar Guerron Orejuela (he/him)

Ph.D. Candidate

University of South Florida, School of Geosciences

Margaret A. Davidson Fellow


The transmission rate of Covid-19 on the southern Kenai Peninsula is at an all-time high. If you are sick, please get tested and call your healthcare provider. Treatment is available! Do not delay!  To help prevent the spread to others, PLEASE wear cloth face coverings or procedure masks, get vaccinated if you can, stay away from others when sick, and get tested if you have been exposed or have symptoms.

7-day case counts on Southern Kenai Peninsula

Anchor Point5311 22
Fritz Creek11     
Other South 122 12

Data from Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: Table 2b Geographic Distribution of Cases by Report Date. Except for weekends and holidays, data is typically updated by noon.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Booster Authorized Please talk to your healthcare provider about whether getting a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 booster shot is appropriate for you. Learn more at Who can get a Covid-19 vaccine booster? Anyone who is at least six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine series, and falls into one of these categories:

  • people 65 years and older;
  • residents aged 18 years and older in long-term care settings;
  • people aged 50 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions ;
  • people 18 to 49 who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 due to certain underlying medical conditions may receive it based on their individual benefits and risks; and
  • people aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive it, based on their individual benefits and risks. This includes first responders (healthcare workers, firefighters, police, congregate care staff); education staff (teachers, support staff, daycare workers); workers in food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections, U.S. Postal Service, public transit and grocery store workers.

Where can I get my vaccine booster?

  • Attend the mass Pfizer booster vaccination event on Friday, October 15 at Homer High School. 
  • Make Appointment Here
    NOTE – If you received your second dose on or before April 17, you qualify.
  • Set an appointment with your primary care provider.
  • At the SPH Test and Vaccine site (see below).

Pfizer booster doses are only recommended for certain individuals who have received two doses of Pfizer vaccine. Those who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are not authorized for booster at this time.

COVID Clinic at 4201 Bartlett Street

Pfizer vaccines – available 7 days a week.

Moderna & Janssen vaccines – available only on Tuesdays and Fridays

Walk-ins welcome from 9am-5pm daily, or click below to make an appointment

Third dose for immunocompromised individuals can be done by provider referral (sent a day in advance of your vaccine visit) or by completing the attestation of conditions.

  Moderna & Janssen     Pfizer  

Vaccines are now offered during your appointments at Homer Medical Center and the SPH Family Care Clinic. Inquire at time of your appointment. Click here for a complete list of vaccine providers on the southern kenai peninsula. Pfizer vaccine is now authorized for individuals 12 years of age and older. Moderna and Janssen vaccines are authorized only for individuals 18 years of age and older. Learn more about vaccine safety in minors in letter to parents from Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer, State of Alaska

Who is eligible? Anyone 12 and older.

Vaccine Information: Information about COVID-19 vaccines:

  • mRNA vaccines
  • Pfizer-BioNTech–authorized under FDA Emergency Use Authorization for individuals 12 – 15 years of age;
  • COMIRNATY (Pfizer-Biontech) – Fully approved by FDA for 16 years of age and older
  • Moderna – authorized under FDA Emergency Use Authorization for 18 years and up
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) – authorized under FDA Emergency Use Authorization for 18 years and up.


In December 2017, on his first night as a Peace Corps volunteer in the ancient North Macedonian city of Štip, Cal Mann was welcomed with a raucous party at a rustic cabin far outside of town. There was an abundance of food and drinks, and a boom box blared local music. As the party raged well past midnight, Mann watched, beer in hand. “I’m like, I can’t do this for two years, that’s for sure,” he recalls.

So you can understand his trepidation the next day when he found out a barbecue was in the works. Being a good sport and new to the city, he opted to go — a pivotal decision, it turns out. At the barbecue he struck up a conversation with a man named Zoran Kolev, who spoke English. As talk came around to Mann’s work as a Peace Corps volunteer, Kolev mentioned that there was a new service club in the city: the Rotary Club of Štip.

Rotary Club of Štip members review Rotary-donated English-language children’s storybooks with representatives from the Goce Delčev-Štip primary school. 

Photo courtesy of Cal Mann.

“He told me they had just started the club a few months before,” Mann says. “They didn’t really know what Rotary was, but someone had told them it was a good thing to do.” This was great news to Mann, who had been a Rotary member since 2004 (and who currently belongs to the Rotary E-Club of Silicon Valley).

“I was thrilled to have met someone involved in Rotary so I could tap into my experience there. And they were happy to have someone who knew what Rotary was.”

Mann’s primary assignment with the Peace Corps was to work with a legal clinic for Roma residents, but volunteers are encouraged to take on a side project. Rotary became his. “I had just linked up with a club of people with big networks in the community, and most spoke English,” Mann says. “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. I figured that’s a pretty good opportunity. I better jump on it.”

Mann connected the club with a youth group and worked on small projects such as litter cleanups. When two Peace Corps volunteers in Štip who were teaching English needed more books, Mann talked to the club about finding a local distributor and also reached out to his friends at the Rotary Club of La Jolla, California, where he’d been a member previously, to connect them with the Štip club so that they could work together on the project.

Mann’s supervisor at the Peace Corps took notice. By the end of 2019, Peace Corps Northern Macedonia had placed four Peace Corps volunteers with Rotary clubs in the country. “The clubs loved it because they got volunteers who were really knowledgeable in the area of community development and who had a lot of ideas, energy, time, and skills,” Mann says. “The volunteers loved it because Rotary clubs immediately gave them a good connection to their community and a natural circle of friends.”

It was a match made in heaven. Rotary and the Peace Corps seemed meant for one another — as subsequent developments would demonstrate.

It was an impromptu speech by John F. Kennedy, just weeks before the 1960 presidential election, that catapulted the idea of a volunteer corps of Americans into public consciousness. Speaking from the steps of the student union at the University of Michigan, he challenged students, who had been waiting until well after midnight for his arrival, to contribute part of their life to service. The idea took hold, and hundreds of students signed petitions pledging to volunteer. In March 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps. “‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country’ was very real for me,” says Ted Bendelow, a member of the Rotary Club of Mead, Colorado, who joined the Peace Corps six months after Kennedy’s assassination and served in Liberia from 1964 to 1966.

In the 60 years since its creation, more than 240,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps. Chances are there might be a returned Peace Corps volunteer (known as an RPCV) in your club or district. “They pop up in Rotary more than you might think,” says Charlie Hunt, a member of the Rotary Club of Denver Lodo, who served in Vanuatu from 2006 to 2008. Hunt recalls attending a Rotary club meeting while traveling to another part of the United States and hearing an opinionated academic speaking about Iran. “A Rotarian took her to task,” Hunt says. “He said he had spent two years in Iran. He had been a Peace Corps volunteer.”

  1. Charlie Hunt (center) and his wife, Nancy Cole, greet his host father, Pastor Kaltang Kai, as they end their Peace Corps service in Vanuatu.

    Photo courtesy of Charlie Hunt.

  2. Hunt attending a chiefs’ meeting; he was given the name “Masilae” when he arrived on the island of Émaé. “‘Silae’ means ‘man who helps’ and ‘Ma’ means ‘chief,’ so technically I am a chief on the island,” he explains.

    Photo courtesy of Charlie Hunt.

  3. Ted Bendelow with his friend Flumo, whom he met while serving in the Peace Corps in Liberia.

                     Photo courtesy of Ted Bendelow.

The relationship between Rotary International and the Peace Corps, made official with a 2014 partnership agreement, has its foundation in the organizations’ shared values. The mission of the Peace Corps — “to promote world peace and friendship” — is one Rotary has embraced for more than 100 years. And the Peace Corps’ chief areas of focus — agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth in development — have much in common with Rotary’s.

The Peace Corps has three goals: providing training for men and women in interested host countries; helping people in those countries to better understand Americans; and helping Americans to better understand other peoples. Service, therefore, is meant to continue once volunteers return home. “The third goal is not necessarily just about telling stories about your Peace Corps experience,” Hunt says. “It’s about being active in your community and how you can best take the things you’ve done in the Peace Corps and apply them when you come back.”

Steve Werner, a member of the Rotary Club of Denver Southeast and a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea from 1976 to 1978, recalls a meeting in the early 1990s with JFK’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, who had served as the first director of the Peace Corps. Then the board chair for the National Peace Corps Association, Werner stopped by Shriver’s office to have him sign some fundraising letters, a task he thought would take only 15 minutes. But Shriver was in the mood to talk. “He told me that the vision was that once a Peace Corps volunteer, we would always be a Peace Corps volunteer,” Werner says. “We would continue to serve after we got home to be examples to our fellow Americans. It was a big part of my motivation for becoming a Rotarian.”

  1. 241,000

    Number of people who have served in the Peace Corps over the past 60 years

  2. 3

    Percent of volunteers over age 50

  3. 27

    Average volunteer age

Werner served another tour as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Georgia in 2016, this time with Peace Corps Response. While similar in approach to the two-year traditional program, Peace Corps Response assignments are shorter (generally 9-12 months) and involve higher impact projects geared to volunteers with more technical expertise in a particular program area.

Elsewhere in 2016, Andy Lenec was listening to NPR with his son when he heard an interview with the oldest active Peace Corps volunteer at the time: 87-year-old Alice Carter, who had just finished her first year in Morocco. “I’d been a Rotarian for over 25 years and service is second nature to me,” Lenec says. “I looked at my son, and he said, ‘Go for it, Dad.’ The next thing I know, I’m filling out the Peace Corps application form online.”

Lenec was assigned to Truskavets, a small city in western Ukraine near the Polish border where a Rotary club had applied for a Peace Corps volunteer in partnership with the city government and library. The club was small but committed. “Because of economic struggles, Rotary in Ukraine can cost as much as one month’s salary for annual dues,” Lenec says. “Many just cannot afford it. So a club of what used to be 20 was down to maybe 4.”

Shannon Carter on an overnight train ride during a field trip with the young people of Zolotonosha, Ukraine, where she served as a Peace Corps youth development volunteer.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Carter.

Once in Truskavets, Lenec decided that he wanted his side project for the Peace Corps to involve young people. He proposed an international youth conference to the Rotarians, and they jumped at the idea, as did the city’s mayor. As Lenec traveled to other Rotary clubs to encourage them to support the conference, a Rotarian asked if the conference could be turned into a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event, which was defunct in the country. Lenec had been involved in RYLA for years and had seen the impact it makes on youth. Now he had a new goal: “We were going to revive RYLA in Ukraine,” he says.

Unfortunately, Lenec became ill while planning the event and had to return to Colorado, where he is now a member of the Rotary Club of Denver Lodo. But another Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, Shannon Carter, stepped in and worked with Rotarians to keep the momentum going. During the summer of 2019, the RYLA took place; 17 young people from Ukraine, Japan, and Armenia participated. “It cemented faith in the program,” Carter says. Carter then helped organize a virtual RYLA in 2020 with more than 700 registered participants.

Unlike Lenec with his decades of Rotary experience, Carter had none. But she soon discovered how valuable the Rotary network would be, both with RYLA and her future projects. Following up on work Lenec had done to raise awareness of the RYLA project with clubs in North America, Carter was introduced to Gordon Crann, a member of the Rotary Club of Hamilton After Five, Ontario. Crann, who has an extensive global network as past chair of both the Rotary Action Group for Peace and the Rotary Action Group for Community and Economic Development, offered to help Carter promote RYLA. Then he went one step further: He suggested she also apply for a Rotary Peace Fellowship.

Some of the young people who Carter worked with decided to go out into the community and give hugs to people. “They saw it on social media and wanted to do it,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Carter.

“I was very impressed by Shannon and her organizational ability,” Crann says. “She was the key person in bringing everything together, and this was an interna-tional effort. Peace Corps volunteers have shown they have a commitment to Service Above Self by taking time off [for public service], when they could be making a lot more money in jobs in the United States.”

Carter applied, and today she is a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford, England, and a member of the Rotaract Club of Lviv International, Ukraine. “I went into RYLA anticipating personal growth, but I didn’t foresee the international network I would gain that would provide future opportunities like the Rotary Peace Fellowship,” Carter says. “My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer cemented my confidence in myself and made me realize we are fully able to do what we want in life.”

One of the driving forces behind the Rotary-Peace Corps partnership at the international level is a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers from Colorado who named themselves the “Tiger Team,” after a dog owned by one of its members. The group began meeting in November 2009 at the instigation of Sue Fox, a past president of the Rotary Club of Denver and a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Liberia from 1968 to 1970. Fox recognized the potential for the two groups; as she told a local business magazine at the time, “RPCVs and Rotarians are kindred spirits, seeking the same goals embodied in Rotary’s motto, Service Above Self.”

Students register for the regional English-language spelling bee in Štip. Nationwide, more than 3,000 students participate in this highly competitive contest, which is facilitated by volunteers from the Peace Corps and Rotary.

Photo courtesy of Cal Mann.

The Tiger Team expanded to include other Rotarians as well as returned Peace Corps volunteers who were not affiliated with Rotary. Their group, which became the organization Partnering for Peace, proposed to Rotary International and the Peace Corps administration that a formal alliance be established between the two organizations. That step was taken in May 2014, and the partnership was recently renewed for another three years.



by Illustration by 

“There’s something about the whole idea of eradicating polio that grabs the imagination,” says Aidan O’Leary. “Most people talk about making steps toward achievements, and it’s almost always into the never-never. Eradication is a zero-sum game; anything short of zero is failure. You keep getting closer and closer, but ultimately the only number that actually matters is zero.”

Although O’Leary, the polio eradication director for the World Health Organization, is speaking from his home in Galway, against the verdant backdrop of western Ireland, his focus is on war-torn Afghanistan and the parched and dusty plains of Pakistan — the last two places on the planet where wild polio still thrives.

Even during a pandemic, even as grim realities confront him, O’Leary conveys a sense of optimism about the possibility of finally eradicating polio. “Particularly in the days of COVID-19, there is something that really resonates about snuffing out a highly communicable infectious disease,” he says. “As COVID has taken off, it has also led a lot of people to better understand why now is the time to finish this job with polio.”

Yet O’Leary’s optimism is shaded with a sense of urgency and pragmatism. “There is absolutely no case for complacency here,” he says. “What is really important is that we double down on reaching the persistently missed children who are a top priority for our program.”

O’Leary, who began his tenure as WHO’s polio chief in January, came into the job knowing the terrain well. He formerly led UNICEF’s polio eradication efforts in Pakistan and was the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, organizing the UN’s emergency response during crises.

O’Leary says he understands the difference Rotary can make — both in a community and in the global fight against polio. In Galway, a local tradition involves kicking the limestone wall at the end of a 2-mile stroll on the Salthill Promenade along Galway Bay (the reason for doing so has been lost in the mists of time). In 2012, O’Leary explains, the Rotary Club of Galway-Salthill installed on that wall a box that bears the slogan “Small Change, Big Impact” and encourages walkers to leave a small donation, with all money collected going to local charities and institutions.

In July, weeks before the dramatic turn of events in Afghanistan, O’Leary joined Rotary magazine senior staff writer Diana Schoberg and Dave King, editor of Rotary magazine for Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, on a Zoom call to discuss the new strategy of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and the new polio vaccine, and how they will be used to eradicate polio — once and for all.

What is the latest update on wild poliovirus?

The numbers are extremely encouraging. We’ve gone over a very bumpy road during the last two years. We had a fivefold increase in cases between 2018 and 2019, when we saw 176 cases, and we had 140 cases in 2020. But we’ve recorded just two cases this year [as of 27 July] — one each in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Both cases were in January.]

The particularly encouraging part right now is that the program has a very elaborate network of environmental testing sites for sewage — almost 100 sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan that cover all of the major population centers. In 2020, almost 60 percent of the monthly test samples came back positive for poliovirus. This year to date, that percentage is probably around 15 per-cent. We have been unable to detect any wild poliovirus in Afghanistan since 23 February, and we’ve seen just five isolates in Pakistan since 12 April.

Why do you think that is? Given that some polio immunization campaigns had to be suspended last year, you’d think the numbers would have gone in the other direction. Is it because so many elements of society were shut down due to the pandemic?

While conditions in 2020 were certainly adverse both for surveillance and for the campaign operations, there are two areas that are helping us this year. One is reduced mobility — both within Afghanistan and Pakistan, and across the borders. When you look particularly at the experience in India, with the explosion of COVID cases in the first and second quarters of 2021 — and what were some very shocking images of funeral pyres — I believe that the drop in mobility has had an impact. There has also been a change in social norms, very simple things like social distancing and hand washing. Maybe that has made some impact, as well. But those are short-term changes.

With the conflict in Afghanistan, we don’t believe that the benefits we’re seeing from reduced mobility will continue indefinitely. We need to continue to prepare for the possibility of large-scale displacements across borders. We need to grab the opportunity that we have.

Now we’re coming into the high season for polio transmission, so we’ll continue to wait and see. There’s certainly no complacency from our program.

"The single most important relationship that the program has is between a frontline vaccinator and the caregiver who answers the knock at the door."

Vaccines are on everyone’s mind because of COVID. Has that affected acceptance of the polio vaccine?

For me, the more fundamental issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan center around household and community confidence and trust. If you get the basics of that right, you are 80 to 90 percent there. The challenge has always been reaching the other 10 to 20 percent.

The key issue is broader — the marginalization of communities. That’s not something that can be addressed just at the household and community level. It requires a systemic engagement to try to make sure that we properly understand the community’s actual needs and then that we connect those dots in a more reliable way.

The single most important relationship that the program has is between a frontline vaccinator and the caregiver who answers the knock at the door. That caregiver is usually the mother, and what’s really important for our success is that the frontline vaccinator is a local woman who is well-trained and motivated to do what she’s doing. If that relationship of confidence and trust is developed, then you’re able to vaccinate all of the children inside the house.

Because of the suspension of house-to-house vaccination campaigns in 2018 in areas of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, more than 3 million children routinely miss vaccinations. Do you think that polio eradication is possible while the security situation in Afghanistan is so unpredictable?

We continue to speak with all parties. Our priority is the protection of children, and that requires engaging with all stakeholders. We have an agreement with the Taliban to conduct mosque-to-mosque campaigns, which we hope we’ll be able to initiate in the coming months. In some cases, we’ll be reaching children for the first time in several years. We’d like to build on those opportunities toward resuming house-to-house vaccination campaigns.

We don’t have an all-or-nothing situation. Let’s seize the opportunity to reach 40 to 50 percent coverage before we start talking about 100 percent. Will the campaigns in July and August be perfect? No. They’re taking place against the backdrop of a growing full-scale conflict, so we have to make sure that we find appropriate ways of making that work.

There will be risks. Eight frontline workers were killed in eastern Afghanistan earlier this year in various targeted killings. In these contested areas, the de facto authorities on the ground shift. We need to make sure that we navigate these areas as sensitively as we possibly can.

We are also working on financing essential immunization coverage [universal access to all relevant vaccines], particularly in the provinces of the southern region of Afghanistan. We recognize that it’s not just a polio gap. There’s a much broader gap.

The other point that I would highlight is the importance of the surveillance system. Although we have not been able to reach all children with vaccinations, our surveillance system is continuing to pick up all the acute flaccid paralysis cases. There is a basic system in place that allows us to properly understand what’s going on. We want to build incrementally and in a sustainable way to make sure that we have access in all of these areas for the purposes of our immunization programs.

What about in Pakistan, where 81 percent of the cases are among the Pashto-speaking population, who make up 15 percent of the overall population. Why are the cases so concentrated within that group, and what is the program planning to do to address it?

It’s often presented as a vaccine acceptance issue, but I think it’s much broader than that. Because of economic migration, among other reasons, you have this massive influx of Pashto-speaking people from across Afghanistan and Pakistan into Karachi. You’re seeing this huge explosion of settlements — formal, informal, and everything in between. These settlements tend to be highly underserved. There can be issues between the state and provincial administrations and these minority communities. There’s a wider issue around community acceptance, confidence, and trust.

The polio eradication program is one of the few programs that reaches these communities, but their needs go way beyond polio vaccines, including clean water and sanitation, nutrition, basic health services, and education. So when you are trying to access these informal settlements, you have this big residue of issues that polio essentially becomes the proxy for.

These issues are not strictly within the control of our program, but we recognize that to build the acceptance and trust of these communities, we’re going to have to make a much more sustained effort than we perhaps may have been doing in the past. The idea on our side is to move from patchy and ad hoc initiatives to something much more comprehensive and systemic.

In places like Karachi, Pakistan, Aidan O’Leary says, the most successful “frontline vaccinator is a local woman who is well-trained and motivated.” Khaula Jamil/Courtesy of Rotary International
The new strategy talks about “zero-dose children.” What does that term mean?

Zero-dose refers to any child who has never had a vaccine. We want to make sure that they not only get the oral polio vaccines but also as many other essential immunizations as is feasible. It’s not just a question of a fixed, static target of high-risk children in core reservoirs — those areas with persistent wild poliovirus transmission. There is a rolling target that we have to stay on top of. We’re in a race against time with newborns. There are between 7 and 8 million babies born every year in Pakistan. So we need to make sure that within the first months of those babies’ lives, we’re reaching as large a proportion of them as we possibly can.

What’s your best guesstimate of your target?

Every time we do a national immunization campaign in Pakistan, which are house-to-house campaigns, we target more than 40 million children under age 5. When we go to Afghanistan, that number is between 9 million and 10 million. It continues to be very humbling to see what frontline workers are doing during a pandemic.

We’re dealing with two issues here, aren’t we — wild poliovirus and the circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. What is the difference between the two?

The wild poliovirus is essentially as its name describes. It’s the original of the species. It has evolved over centuries and millennia, and it has continued to evolve.

The oral polio vaccine contains a live but weakened virus, which can circulate among under-immunized or unimmunized populations for a long period of time, usually for years. And eventually, it can revert to a form that causes paralysis. That is circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus [cVDPV].

Viruses require an immunity gap. They need susceptible children. Anywhere there are zero-dose children, you’re going to find these diseases taking off. When we map where these children are, we keep coming back to the same locations again and again. That’s why we really have to double down and make sure that these zero-dose children are our very top priority to get covered by vaccination.

The new eradication strategy includes improving surveillance and integrating polio vaccines into health programs. Khaula Jamil/Courtesy of Rotary International


Globally, how widespread is cVDPV?

There have been 1,800 cases since 2016. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a tripling of cases, and then there was a further tripling between 2019 and 2020. The total number of cVDPV cases in 2020 was 1,103. So far in 2021 [as of 27 July], there have been 179 cases. We’ve seen real progress as immunization campaigns have resumed. The number of countries with cases has decreased from 27 last year to just over a dozen.

These cases happen where children miss vaccinations. When children are fully vaccinated, cVDPV is not a problem. These cases are highly concentrated, with Afghanistan and Pakistan making up 40 percent of cases in 2020. If you look at the situation in Afghanistan, which was the country with the greatest number of cVDPV cases last year, more than 90 percent of those were concentrated in the areas that were inaccessible due to the Taliban banning house-to-house polio campaigns.

So again, the challenge for us is to protect through vaccination. You create a risk by not building up the immunity levels as high as they could or should be. As a program, we are trying to get back to a stage where we’re going after the root cause of the problem — which means making sure that we are fully vaccinating all of these zero-dose children.



Tips to have that talk


As COVID-19 vaccinations are administered around the globe, you’ve probably seen your social media feeds fill up with joyful vaccine selfies and excited appointment updates. Chances are, you also have someone in your life who’s skeptical. Most of us do — and that has public health officials concerned.

Vaccine hesitancy is often fuel for heated public debate, but conversations about vaccines don’t have to be contentious. In fact, being willing to have them is one of the most impactful ways we can influence global health. As with many emotionally-charged topics, knowing how to start the conversation can be the hardest part. These tips may help you open up a dialogue and get your loved ones thinking differently about being vaccinated.

Find shared values. We all want similar things — healthy families, thriving communities, and a sense of control over our health. Demonizing vaccine-hesitant individuals only creates further division and exacerbates an “us vs. them” mentality. Try explaining why you choose vaccinations. Is it to protect the most vulnerable members of your community? To shield your children from preventable disease? Relatable motivations like these can help forge a human connection and get to the emotional heart of the issue.

Seek to understand. Just as there are many reasons to be vaccinated, there are many reasons a person might feel dubious. A prevalent one is misinformation, which is more contagious than ever in our digital age. Others are more complicated and riddled with an ugly history. Marginalized communities have spent centuries being mistreated by the medical establishment. Expecting these communities to immediately trust the same institution to have their best interest at heart is unfair and dismissive of historic trauma.

Know your “C’s.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined three “C’s” that contribute to vaccinate hesitancy: complacency, convenience, and confidence. We could also add a fourth: culture. Rates of vaccine hesitancy, as well as contributing factors, vary widely based on a person’s location, background, and community. Being cognizant of these differences can prevent us from making incorrect assumptions. If someone is skipping recommended vaccines due to religious beliefs, opening a conversation with safety statistics may not be helpful or relevant to them.

Lead with facts. Mythbusting can be tempting, but did you know that repeating misinformation can actually give it more weight? Instead of focusing on why that meme or blog post is incorrect, stick to simple statements of fact. For example: “large-scale scientific studies find no link between the HPV vaccine and auto-immune symptoms.”

Be the voice of the majority. Social norms are an incredibly powerful force, but the key is to keep it positive. If you try to convince someone that not enough people are receiving vaccines, they may feel that their hesitancy has been validated by others. A more effective approach is to focus on how many people are choosing to vaccinate and why. Remind them that large-scale inoculation is a group effort and we want them on the team.

Identify the problem and the solution. If you’ve ever stood at the edge of a diving board, unable to move, you know that fear can be paralyzing. Fear of severe illness can have similar effects. When we talk about vaccine-preventable disease, simply scaring someone is likely to backfire. Instead, it’s important to acknowledge two facts simultaneously: these diseases are serious and being vaccinated is a simple and effective countermeasure. Help put power back into their hands by identifying an action they can take — being vaccinated!

Vaccines bring us closer to a world where everyone thrives, but it’s a team effort. By having conversations, you can bring your friends and family along on our global health journey.

Learn more about Rotary’s response to COVID-19.

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