The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: Sabin Sundays

Just last year, the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of April 24, 1960. Why was this date so important? Sunday, April 24, 1960, is also known as “Sabin Sunday,” which was the first public distribution of the Sabin oral polio vaccine in the United States. This took place right here in Hamilton County, Ohio!

Advertisement for Sabin Sundays in the Cincinnati Enquirer, 1960

One document I found (of many) referring to this massive undertaking was a copy of an advertisement from the Cincinnati Enquirer, which was published on Sabin Sunday. Called the “Children’s Crusade,” from April 24-May 11, children could receive a free oral polio vaccine from doctors and clinics around Cincinnati and the surrounding area. This effort was sponsored by the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Pediatrics Society, the Southwestern Ohio Society of General Physicians and the Cincinnati Board of Health. I love the photograph of Dr. Sabin administering the vaccine because this is the way many of that generation remember receiving the vaccine.

Letter from Dr. Sabin to Dr. Thomas Rivers, 1960

Also while looking through Dr. Sabin’s correspondence, I found a letter he wrote to fellow researcher Thomas M. Rivers, who was the Vice President for Medical Affairs at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis at the time. You can tell by Dr. Sabin’s letter that he was pleased with the turnout and how well it was organized. It must have been quite organized for 20,000 people to receive the vaccine on the same day!

What I think is telling from both Dr. Sabin’s letter and from the advertisement are the references to a “voluntary system of participation” and “an international demonstration of cooperation in a free society.” Dr. Sabin’s prior vaccination trials took place in Russia in 1959, where the Communist influence could cloud views of the oral polio vaccine. Perhaps the phrases mentioned above, particularly the one in the advertisement referring to “a free society” was a reflection of society’s fear of communism and the vaccine’s original test in the Soviet Union?

For more information about the Winkler Center and Sabin digitization project, check out the original press release.

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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