Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sabin Vaccine Distribution

Photo from The Vindicator, December 1, 1961 via Google News Archive

Today we were able to schedule vaccinations for COVID-19. We happened to discover our local department of health’s vaccination site was scheduling appointments for our age group. The week after next, we will literally drive through the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, roll down our car windows, roll up our sleeves, get our shots, and drive to a waiting area to make sure we have no reactions.

It reminds me of a similar mass vaccination when I was a child. Polio left Franklin Roosevelt with paralyzed legs and infected many children and adults, sometimes requiring iron lungs to help them breathe, and often leaving them with one or more paralyzed limbs. We know some of these people. We feared summer when polio spread most rapidly and spoke of “polio season.” The first breakthrough came in 1955 when Jonas Salk from the nearby University of Pittsburgh introduced a “killed virus” vaccine. I received this as a shot as a young child. Then in 1961 Albert Sabin introduced an oral version of an attenuated virus vaccine that produced a stronger immune response but was safe. One of the striking things was that Sabin refused to patent the vaccine and did not make any money off it, living on his professor’s salary.

It was administered in three ways: via a dropper, mixed into a cup of distilled water, or put into a sugar cube. The Sabin vaccine was distributed in two drives in Youngstown, one on November 30 and December 1, 1961, and the other on February 15 and 17, 1962. In Youngstown, the vaccine drive was headed up by Dr. Kurt Wegner with the Mahoning County Medical Society. During each of these drives, upwards of 130,000 Mahoning County residents received the vaccine in a single dose diluted in a small cup of distilled water. There were sites at the courthouse, Manor Avenue School, Austintown Fitch, Boardman, Poland, Canfield, Struthers High Schools, Chaney, East, and North High Schools, Hillman, Kirkmere, Hayes, and others.

We went to Chaney High School, like those in the photograph above. I can’t remember whether it was in November or February. There were long lines but they moved fairly quickly. We got our little cup, drank it up, and walked out. That was it. And polio disappeared. Eventually, the Sabin vaccine disappeared (still in use in some countries) and the Salk version since 2000 is the only version given in the U.S. in four doses.

It is kind of amazing to me given our present situation that most of Mahoning County’s residents received the vaccine during two weekend drives, at a time when they weren’t in a health emergency. It’s a different time, and today’s vaccines have different and more stringent storage requirements.

I don’t want to debate vaccines here (please, please don’t). It’s a personal decision. Mine is to get the vaccine. I remember polio seasons and am glad many others don’t need to. I look forward to the day the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. And to that jab in my arm.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

9 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sabin Vaccine Distribution

  1. Good Morning
    Received both the Sabin and Salk polio vaccines in Youngstown. Sabin at Chaney High. Maybe we were there at same time. My parents and brother went with me.
    Good article about important initiative.
    Michelle Humans White

  2. Good Morning, I also. received both, I remember getting one at Austintown Fitch high School and the relief my parents had was palpable! I grew up in Wickliffe, age 7, until then West Side. There was a family 2 doors up that lost their daughter to polio and a young boy behind us on the next street on an iron lung. I am scheduled for my vaccine today.

  3. Thank you for sharing this article. I remember, as a small child, standing is line for this…the funny thing is I was recently telling my husband about this and could not remember what the shot was for…now it is confirmed.

  4. Excellent timing for your article. I remember having the oral version at Manor Ave just down the street from our house. I remember how cautious our parents were with us especially during “polio season”, since it was commonly believed that polio could be “caught” in swimming places. One morning my brother awoke complaining of a stiff neck. the fear from my parents was palpable that morning, until the situation resolved it self and he was fine. Thanks for the reminder that things do get better.

  5. I remember going to East High with my mother and brothers for the oral vaccine. Your article is timely. I was just talking about this with a friend. I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for the many strolls down Memory Lane.

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