Finishing my father’s work

Oral polio vaccine creator’s daughter, Debbe Sabin, shares her experiences of the polio eradication journey

Debbe's father, Albert Sabin, administers his creation - oral polio vaccine - to a child. WHO/Pasteur Merieux
Debbe’s father, Albert Sabin, administers his creation – oral polio vaccine – to a child.
WHO/Pasteur Merieux

Summertime in the 1950s came as a mixed blessing for children in the United States. Although the long sun-drenched days brought plenty of time to play and hang out with friends, they were also a time of widespread panic and fear among the parents.

In mid-20th century America, summer was known as “polio season”.

Polio was at epidemic proportions, spreading quickly and causing mass public fear. Local authorities closed the schools and public pools, and my friends would often be kept home because their parents wanted to protect against this highly infectious disease known to paralyse and, in some cases, kill otherwise healthy individuals.

In 1952, when I was just two, a record 58,000 cases were reported; over one third were paralytic. Local hospital wards began to fill with iron lungs and crutches, to support children affected by the disease…

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