Championing the Cause
Dr. Marina Salvadori is a passionate advocate for vaccine policy with the goal of ensuring immunizations are free and accessible for all who want them and that all children are immunized
By Crystal Mackay, MA’05
Dr. Marina Salvadori says when it comes to treating children, clean water and vaccinations are the two most important public health interventions on the planet.
Throughout her career as an infectious diseases paediatrician, she has had an intimate window to the effects of both, having spent time on the front lines during the Walkerton water crisis and, in recent years, becoming a passionate advocate for vaccine policy and vaccine compliance.
“It’s hard to get clean water, education, and food to every person on the planet, but we can actually vaccinate everyone and eradicate disease, so that even in the most miserable of circumstances, every child has a chance to live,” she said.
As a medical resident in the early 1990s in Winnipeg, Dr. Salvadori saw one in 200 children younger than the age of five come into the hospital with meningitis as a result of Haemophius Influenza (Hib or H-flu), a disease that often caused brain damage, deafness and death.
In 1992, her second year of residency, a vaccine became publicly available for Hib. Since that time, Dr. Salvadori says she has never seen another case of it again in someone who is fully immunized.
“Even in the course of my short career, I have seen vaccines completely change the face of paediatric medicine,” she said. “When I was a resident, meningitis was common; that’s what paediatric residents did. Now you can have cohorts of 20 residents going through the program and none of them have ever seen a case of real meningitis.”
After witnessing first-hand the incredible effect of vaccines on public health, Dr. Salvadori believes that vaccines should be free and available to anyone who wants them.
As a faculty member in Paediatrics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, she mentors and trains residents and students to be advocates for vaccinations and she dedicates a large portion of her time advocating for national and provincial vaccine policy to make immunizations equitable and accessible for all.
For a little more than a decade, Dr. Salvadori has been part of the National Advisory Committee for Immunizations, helping to draft public policy and guidelines for vaccinations. She says one of the most important issues in Canada is the fact that every province has a different vaccine schedule and funding policy.
She is also involved in the Canadian Paediatric Society to advocate for the funding of vaccines for all Canadian children. She is especially proud of the fact that Ontario has one of the best vaccine programs in the country.
“I love taking away barriers so that it’s equitable and that ability to pay doesn’t prevent you from getting a vaccine. It’s remarkable that now we are affecting cancer with the HPV vaccine and polio will be eradicated in my lifetime, I know it.”
And while she feels that she’s made huge gains on this front, she says she is still frustrated with parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. As someone who feels so strongly about the importance of vaccines in protecting children, Dr. Salvadori takes a somewhat unconventional and hardline approach, giving parents real-world and very vivid examples of the risks involved with not vaccinating.
Dr. Salvadori began her career at SickKids in Toronto, and moved to London after serving as the paediatric lead in Walkerton in 2000. She was one of the first health care workers to take part in the relief efforts. Working on the front lines providing treatment to children during that time had a profound effect on her outlook.
“I love taking away barriers so that it’s equitable and that ability to pay doesn’t prevent you from getting a vaccine. It’s remarkable that now we are affecting cancer with the HPV vaccine and we are going to eradicate polio in my lifetime.” —Dr. Marina Salvadori
“There were hundreds of people coming into the emergency department; everyone was vomiting and scared, and not able to drink the water and I was newly graduated. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” she said.
After the crisis, she played a major role in the follow-up clinic for the next decade and researched the long-term outcomes of the water contamination on human health.
This past year, Dr. Salvadori’s work as a paediatrician and a faculty member, and her advocacy work across the province and country, was recognized with a 2017 YMCA Women of Excellence Award.
“Our students and residents hold Dr. Salvadori in the highest esteem and see her as the role model of the ideal clinician; compassionate, comprehensive and caring,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, Chair/Chief Paediatrics, and her nominator for the award. “She was the first woman clinician in our Department to achieve the rank of professor and she serves as a model of how to combine clinical excellence, academic curiosity and scholarly rigour.”