Albert B. Sabin, MD
Dr. Sabin and Child in Pavia, Italy, 1967.
We have a common interest in the elimination of disease that is a cause of human misery everywhere in the world. This common interest unites us in a desire for cooperation regardless of what else may separate us.
Best known as the developer of the oral, live virus polio vaccine, Dr. Albert Bruce Sabin influenced many aspects of vaccine development and virology throughout his career. Born in 1906 in Bialystok, Russia, Albert Sabin and his family came to the United States in 1921 to escape Jewish persecution. He would have become a dentist if his uncle had his way, but when Dr. Sabin read The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in biomedical research.
I was then given an after-school job at Harlem Hospital for which I received room and board at the hospital. Pneumonia was the big killer in 1927, and the only treatment was type-specific antipneumococcus serum. My job at the hospital was to inject mice with the sputum of the many patients who were admitted each day, and the following evening to determine the type of infecting pneumococcus. By that time, however, many of the patients were already dead. This was my first challenge as a ‘microbe hunter.’ — Dr. Sabin, in an essay ca. 1992
After receiving his medical degree from New York University in 1931, he worked in several research laboratories, including the Department of Bacteriology at New York University and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, where his interest in poliomyelitis began.
The 1970 National Medal of Science presented to Dr. Sabin on May 21,1971 by the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon
…for numerous fundamental contributions to the understanding of viruses and viral diseases, culminating in the development of the vaccine which has eliminated poliomyelitis as a major threat to human health.
In 1939, he came to the University of Cincinnati and the Children's Hospital Research Foundation, where he continued his passionate research in polio. However, Dr. Sabin took a brief break from polio during World War II to study Japanese B Encephalitis, sandfly and dengue fever while serving his country in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Dr. Sabin also conducted research on toxoplasmosis, arthritis, and cancer during his 30 years in Cincinnati.
Years of research led to the development and production of the oral poliovirus vaccine, which was approved for use in the United States in 1960. By using Sabin's attenuated polio vaccine, as well as the inactivated poliovirus vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, polio was effectively eradicated in the United States in 1979.
Dr. Sabin believed that his vaccine could eliminate polio around the world due to its low cost and ease of administration. For the rest of his career, he spent much time advocating for National Immunization Days to distribute the oral vaccine.
As a humanitarian I'm deeply concerned. If we once grant that we do not live for ourselves alone and that perhaps the greatest joy that can come in the life of a human being comes from achievements that are related to doing something for others, then the concern for problems facing mankind in general in this world is perhaps of the utmost importance.
Sabin Sundays and
His Oral Polio Vaccine
Families lined up to receive Dr. Sabin's oral polio vaccine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital on “Sabin Sunday”, April 24, 1960.
To me, the most important aspect of this is to indicate what can be done in an American city under a voluntary system of participation in an attempt to get rid of poliomyelitis…
On Sunday, April 24, 1960, more than 20,000 children in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the surrounding area received the Sabin oral, live-virus polio vaccine in its first public distribution in the United States. Within two weeks, over 180,000 of the region's children ages 3 months to 6 years received the vaccine. Later known as "Sabin Oral Sunday," national campaigns throughout the United States and in many countries around the world, encouraged people to line to receive the oral vaccine in a few drops of syrup or on a sugar cube.
My internship at Bellevue Hospital did not begin until January, 1932qaand I continued to work in the laboratories of the Department of Bacteriology. At the Medical School on experimental pneumoccus infection in mice and rabbits in an attempt to gain more knowledge about the mechanism of death in the absence of bacteria. But, the biggest polio epidemic since 1916 broke out in July in New York City paralyzing more than 6,000 children, and killing many of them. My mentor, Dr. William H. Park, induced me to switch from pneumonia to polio. — Dr. Sabin, in an essay ca. 1992
Today this oral vaccine has helped to virtually eradicate polio from the globe. Dr. Sabin's interest in polio began early in his career. While at UC, Dr. Sabin and his colleagues had several breakthroughs that paved the way for the polio vaccine.
One major breakthrough for Dr. Sabin and his colleague Dr. Robert Ward was the discovery that the virus entered through the digestive system rather than the respiratory tract. This knowledge led Sabin to pursue an oral vaccine. While a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine and the Children's Hospital Research Foundation, Dr. Sabin developed the vaccine that was later known as the “Sabin oral vaccine.”
The Sabin vaccine, which consists of three types of “attenuated” or weakened polioviruses, is taken by mouth and provides immunity to not only those who are vaccinated but also those who come in contact with the vaccinated. It requires no periodic booster and produces lifelong immunity.
Dr. Sabin began testing on humans in 1954 with volunteers at a correctional facility in Chillicothe, Ohio, with success, but not before giving the vaccine to his own family.
In my estimation no man has ever contributed so much effective information – so continuously over so many years – to so many aspects of poliomyelitis, as Sabin.
Explore the Digital Collection
…I can only say that I wish you would do what I preach and not what I practice myself. If you don't write up the work you do over the years, it is work done for your own personal benefit and does not add to the sum total of scientific knowledge.
The Entire Collection
The Sabin archives occupy nearly 400 linear feet and consist of correspondence, laboratory notebooks, manuscripts, and other research papers generated by Dr. Sabin during his long and active medical career from 1930–1993. This extensive collection also contains his honors and awards, hundreds of photographs, video and audio tapes, as well as research materials such as microscope slides.
- Highlights of the Entire Collection include—
- His poliomyelitis research
- His development of the live, oral poliovirus vaccine
- His military career
- Handwritten laboratory notebooks from 1947 to 1969
- Manuscripts of lectures and publications
- His research on other diseases
- His non-scientific activities and views
The entire collection (of which 50,000 pages have been digitized) is available for further research at the Henry R. Winkler Center. For more information, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (513) 558-5120. To discover the full range of material available in the archives collection, please go to the OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository.
The Digital Collection
In 2010, the Winkler Center received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize correspondence and photographs in the collection. This “We the People” project is an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation's history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America.
In hopes of best reflecting Dr. Albert B. Sabin's research, life and interests, the material selected for the digitization project contain correspondence, photographs and other documents that highlight Dr. Sabin's medical research and interactions with contemporaries. Other parts of the collection have also been sampled to give researchers some idea of the enormous amount of material available in the entire archives.
A scientist who is also a human being cannot rest while knowledge which might be used to reduce suffering rests on the shelf.