The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Essays on Sabin

We are currently in the process of redesigning the current Sabin website, which is very exciting! For this new website, I have been doing some research to create new content and update content already there. Through my search, I came across some essays about Dr. Sabin written by Dr. Allen B. Weisse, a cardiologist and medical historian.

Letter from Allen B. Weisse to Dr. Sabin dated May 18, 1987. Dr. Sabin wrote a reply at the bottom of the letter.

In 1987, Dr. Weisse contacted Dr. Sabin about one of the essays that appeared in a book called Medical Odysseys: The Different and Sometimes Unexpected Pathways to Twentieth-Century Medical Discoveries. (The Sabin Archives has a folder of correspondence between Dr. Sabin and Dr. Weisse that discusses this chapter.[1]) They met later in 1987, when Dr. Weisse conducted an interview for this chapter.

This interview, along with several others, led Dr. Weisse to tackle the poliomyelitis discussion in his chapter “Polio: The Not-So-Twentieth-Century Disease.” This chapter both Dr. Sabin’s and Dr. Jonas Salk’s accomplishments and gave some background into poliomyleitis. Early in the chapter, Weisse wrote, “Although a brief summary such as this must, of necessity, omit mention of a number of individuals whose contributions were of great value, no reference to polio could possibly be made without the inclusion of Dr. Albert B. Sabin’s remarkable accomplishments.”[2]

Dr. Weisse made no arguments as to whose vaccine was better. He did acknowledge, however, that one could not tell the story of polio and its vaccines without retelling the personal stories of Sabin and Salk.[3]

Another essay is a short biography of Dr. Sabin. In its’ bibliography, Dr. Weisse noted a couple of writings by Dr. Sabin that he found to be useful. I thought I would highlight one of the documents – a 1960 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Weisse commented that “[t]his report on the success of the oral vaccine is among the most important of Sabin’s publications.”[4]

The title page from the "reading copy" of the 1960 JAMA article referred to in the Weisse biography of Dr. Sabin.

Doing a search in Web of Science, the 1960 JAMA has been cited over 150 times and is still being cited today. The article discusses the Toluca, Mexico study that was conducted in 1959. According to Dr. Sabin and his colleagues, the results of the Toluca study were recommendations for eliminating polio in subtropical and tropical areas.[5] The article concluded:

The results obtained in Toluca, Mexico are of significance for the vast majority of the world population, among whom immunity to poliomyelitis is naturally acquired during the first few years of life at varying and sometimes considerable price in paralysis. In such areas the feeding of trivalent vaccine on two brief occasions at an interval of six to eight weeks to all children aged under 4 or 5 years, depending on the age incidence of recorded cases of paralytic poliomyelitis or on the result of a serologic survey in the region, constitutes a rational initial approach to the eradication of poliomyelitis. The rapid disappearance of polioviruses from Toluca under the conditions of the present study indicates that the oncoming generations of children will have to be similarly vaccinated at the optimum time during the first six months of life, because they will have little or no opportunity for national acquisition of immunity to poliomyelitis.[6]

Do you think that this article was one of Dr. Sabin’s most important? Are there another publications by Dr. Sabin and his colleagues that should be featured on this blog?

We have information about the Toluca, Mexico study in our collection. In a future blog post, I plan to discuss more about the study that this important paper was based on.

[1] See Series #1 Correspondence, Sub-series Individual, Box #23, Folder #3 – Weisse, Allen, 1987-1988.
[2] Allen B. Weisse, Medical Odysseys: The Different and Sometimes Unexpected Pathways to Twentieth-Century Medical Discoveries (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 163.
[3] Ibid., 180.
[4] Allen B. Weisse, “Albert B. Sabin (1906-1993)” in Doctors, Nurses and Medical Practitioners: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Lois N. Magner (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 234.
[5] Albert B. Sabin, et. al., “Live, Orally Given Poliovirus Vaccine: Effects of Rapid Mass Immunication on Population under Conditions of Massive Enteric Infection with Other Viruses,” The Journal of the American Medical Association 173 (1960): 1521.
[6] Ibid., 1526.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, 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. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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