PBS “Polio Crusade”

On Monday night, “The Polio Crusade” aired on PBS’s American Experience. The hour long show documented the role of President Roosevelt and the March of Dimes organization in the effort to eradicate the disease. While new advances were being made in the treatment of polio patients, scientists were also racing to find a vaccine. Dr. Albert Sabin, who worked at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and was the head of pediatric research at the University of Cincinnati, was steadily developing a vaccine using live strands of the polio virus. Another scientist, Dr. Jonas Salk, received support from the March of Dimes and set up a bustling laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. He quickly developed a vaccine using the killed virus and was ready to test his vaccine by 1954. Thousands of children received shots. Sabin’s live vaccine, while more effective against multiple types of polio and providing lifelong immunity without booster shots, was not fully licensed until 1962. It quickly became the preferred vaccine. It was effective and easy to administer because was mixed with distilled water and taken orally. During the winter of 1961-1962 Youngstown, OH was one of the first immunization programs to use Sabin’s vaccine. It was administered in schools and even at sporting events.

The Youngstown State University Archives has digitized photographs of this immunization program given by Dr. Kurt Wegner. Dr. Wegner was the Polio Program chairman of the Mahoning County Medical Society.

To see an Iron Lung respirator used for polio patients and to learn more about polio, visit the Rose Melnick Medical Museum’s online exhibit “Life in the Iron Lung: Polio and the modern respirator.”

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