Meet Dr. Sabin


This (to my eyes) rather weird statue stands on campus near my husband’s office at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. It depicts Dr. Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine–and saver of uncountable lives.

(I’ve been fighting with myself all morning to make a Sabin/Savin’ pun, but I’m gonna let it go, for your sake.)

Anyhoo, you may be scratching your head. “Sabin?” you ask (scratch-scratch). “I thought the fellow’s name was ‘Salk,'” you say (scratch-scratch).

Yes, Jonas Salk created the first vaccinations against polio–injections using the dead virus. But Sabin developed an ORAL vaccine using live, weakened virus, which was easier to use, lasted longer (recipients couldn’t later spread the disease) and all but eradicated polio.

In the polio vaccine story, there was drama! Salk versus Sabin, the vaccination shootout! The March of Dimes was all about Salk’s shot. Sabin’s oral vaccine? Not so much.

There were ethics questions! Dr. Sabin’s first test subjects were penitentiary inmates. Now his work on these “volunteers” is a case study in medical ethics classes.

In 2012, only 223 cases of polio were reported in the world: In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Here in the United States, we don’t even know what this disease IS any more–quick quiz: Can you list the symptoms and effects of polio? Do you know how it’s spread around?

We know polio bad. We’re glad it’s “gone.” And the people who experienced the death, pain and devastation of polio in the US are almost gone themselves. I’ve talked to a couple of polio survivors in their eighties and nineties. They still have muscular and neurological symptoms, decades after they caught the disease as a child.

Did polio ever affect your family? And do you have any relatively unsung heroes memorialized in your neighborhood?