Albert Sabin was born in Poland in 1906 and came to Ohio in 1921. He began working at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1939. His research at the hospital included pneumonia, encephalitis, and other viruses, but his main focus was on polio. Originally, Sabin believed the virus entered the body through the respiratory system, but later found that it was a digestive virus.
Sabin determined that the number of polio cases was lower in places with poor sanitary conditions. He tested children in these environments and found that they contained antibodies for the virus but did not have the debilitating paralysis. This led Sabin to conclude that the children must have been affected by the virus when they still had their mother’s antibodies, or contracted a weakened strain.
Sabin used the theory of the weakened strain of polio to begin formulating his idea of a vaccine for the more acute strains. After countless hours of research, he found three weakened strains and began to develop his oral vaccine. The oral vaccine was developed in 1958 and consisted of a live form of the weakened virus in the form of a sugar cube.
The first tests of the vaccine were conducted outside of the United States in places such as Russia, Sweden, Mexico, Holland, and Japan under the supervision of the World Health Administration. The United States was not as quick to accept the vaccine, especially when it was already implementing Jonas Salk’s vaccine. However, Sabin’s vaccine gave both bodily and intestinal immunity whereas Salk’s vaccine only gave bodily immunity, allowing a vaccinated person to still carry and transmit the virus. Also, Sabin’s vaccine produced lifelong immunity, eliminating the booster shots necessary with Salk’s vaccine.
Albert Sabin’s vaccine was beneficial, but equally dangerous. There was fear that the live viruses would return to their virulent forms, causing the victim to contract polio. The viruses would also be able to spread and infect other people. Scientists and doctors, however, decided that the benefits outweighed the risk.