Albert Bruce Sabin - 1906-1993

"No man has ever contributed so much effective information and so continuously over so many years to so many aspects of poliomyelitis as Sabin." - Dr. John R. Paul, Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Yale University

Best known for his contribution to the fight against polio, Albert Sabin was convinced that a live vaccine would prove to be both effective and long lasting. His early years of research were therefore directed towards the development of an oral polio vaccine. By 1955, when Sabin finally managed to develop a strain of polio virus which was safe, a vaccine (using killed virus) had already been produced by his rival, Jonas Salk, but the immunity conferred wasn't always effective and it also involved the subject having to have an injection. This latter is both more time-consuming and expensive (not to mention frightening!) than the oral route of delivery, and therefore less suitable for administration on the world-wide scale that Sabin had in mind. Sabin wanted, and attained, a vaccine which could be sent to every corner of the globe, and it is estimated that during the first two years of mass immunisations, the oral vaccine (administered on a lump of sugar), prevented approx. 5 million cases of paralytic polio and 500,000 deaths.

Sabin was born in Bialystok, Russia, and emigrated to America in 1920. He was greatly interested in medical research and began his career down this track while still a medical student at New York University. Over the span of his career he worked on polio at The Rockerfeller Institute for Medical Research (1935-39), The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and The Children's Hospital Research Foundation (1939-69). He also had a spell in the Army Medical Corps as a member of the Epidemiological Board (1943-45) where he isolated viruses for sand fly fever, found a vaccine for dengue fever and developed a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis. From 1970, he served as President of the Weizmann Institute of Science (1970-72), full-time expert consultant of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (1974), Distinguished Research Professor of Biomedicine at the Medical University of South Carolina (1974-82), and Senior Expert Consultant at the Fogarty International Center for Advanced Studies in the Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (1984-86). At this point he semi-retired but maintained an advisory position at the Fogarty International Center.

Ill health forced him into full retirement at 82, and he died aged 86 on 4th March, 1993. During his lifetime he received forty six honorary degrees and countless awards and accolades from around the world. He had been a great humanitarian working tirelessly to promote an international vaccination programme which included the most impoverished nations of the world.

Polio has now virtually disappeared from the planet, saving around 600,000 lives a year.

Update: June 21, 2002, The European region - 51 countries and 870 million people - was declared polio free today. Last year there were just 480 reported cases worldwide compared with 350,000 in 1988, however the World Health Organization is still $275 million short of the total needed to meet its self-enforced 2005 deadline for global eradication. -

Mission Statement of The Albert Sabin Vaccine Institute (founded in 1993): The Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit public organization dedicated to saving lives by stimulating the development and distribution of vaccines throughout the world. The Institute is committed to continuing the work of Dr. Albert Sabin, who envisioned the enormous potential of vaccines to prevent deadly diseases, by:

  • Awarding grants for cutting-edge research in vaccines and innovative ways to administer them
  • Identifying new vaccine research opportunities
  • Building bridges between leaders in science, industry, and government to share resources and ideas on how to get the vaccines to the people who need them most
  • Advocating sound public policy toward vaccine research and immunization
  • Educating the public and media about the benefits of vaccine
  • Honoring those who have made exemplary contributions to the field of vaccinology

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