“This was one of the finest hours of American medicine. It was the flowering of the finest in community responsibility,” said Don Dunham, Medical Editor of The Cleveland Press. His comment referred to the opening phase of the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland and Northern Ohio (AMCNO)’s three-part Sabin Oral Vaccine (SOS) campaign against polio.

The Sabin Oral Sundays program, as it would come to be known, would become the hallmark accomplishment of the AMCNO. Over six Sundays in the summer of 1962, over 1.5 million Clevelanders were vaccinated against polio, making the campaign the most successful in the country.

The Academy’s decision to launch the SOS program turned on a visit Dr. Albert Sabin made to Cleveland on April 3, 1962. He delivered the Hanna Lecture at the Allen Memorial Library. The following day Academy officials decided to undertake the giant SOS program. On April 5, 1962, it was officially announced to the public. A few days later the Academy signed a contract with the Pfizer Company, a pharmaceutical firm, to supply the vaccine. Signing the contract itself was a courageous act. The Academy had only $900 in the treasury. Estimates of the SOS program cost was $500,000. The Cleveland Foundation advanced $20,000, and the Beaumont Foundation loaned the Academy $15,000, to get the program off the ground. This gave the Polio Vaccine Committee “working” money. On the Polio Vaccine Committee were Dr. Hopwood, Dr. Leedham, Dr. Garry Bassett, Dr. Chester R. Jablonsky, Dr. J. Glen Smith, Dr. Frederick Suppes, Dr. Howard Taylor, Lang, and Mortimer.

Two Academy members—Dr. Howard H. Hopwood and Dr. Charles L. Leedham—were named the co-chairmen to mastermind the program. Both were able, vigorous organizers, and superbly selfless. Both spark-plugged the program from beginning to end. An appendectomy in the middle of the program halted Dr. Hopwood only temporarily. He carried on business from his hospital bed.

Incredibly 730 Academy physicians were lined up for service to cover 92 clinics for six Sabin Sundays. They, and many wives, worked to the point of exhaustion. Said one veteran Academy member when it was all over— “I have never been prouder of my profession”. As immediate assistants to physicians in charge, each clinic had either a dentist or an osteopath to help. Also, pharmacists were key aides at each site. Their job—to put three drops of vaccine on tens of thousands of sugar cubes. It was a painstaking and fatiguing task they did. Other personnel for each clinic were registered nurses, PTA members, Red Cross, Boy and Girl Scouts, service groups, bankers, police. The traffic problem on Sabin days, incidentally, was immense. Police departments of each municipality performed beyond the call of duty to keep traffic in easy flow.

The problem of promoting the program within the community was a major task—one upon which hinged success or failure. Bob Lang scored impressively when he obtained the firm of McCann-Marschalk to organize and direct the advertising campaign for the program. Bill Sansing, Stuart Buchanan and their staff from McCann-Marschalk told their story to greater Cleveland through billboards, posters, brochures, radio and TV.

So skillfully did they speak that hardly anyone in the community could be unaware of the SOS program. Equally significant was the loan of Charles M. Nekvasil, public relations manager of the United Appeal to SOS for the duration of the program. Nekvasil and his staff of professional writers flooded the area with the written story of Sabin Sundays. Unquestionably. The labors of Sansing, Buchanan, and Nekvasil with their staffs were a tremendous factor in the final success of SOS.

No words are too strong in expressing the value of daily newspapers, radio, TV, neighborhood weeklies and language newspapers for the limitless support they gave. Without them the margin of success would have been significantly reduced.

The doctors, members of the AMCNO, were the originators and spearheads of this campaign. But the organizational program that was needed included: nurses, Red Cross workers, pharmacists, osteopaths, dentists, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts, PTA, switchboard girls, bankers, broadcasting executives, radio and TV engineers and talent, newspapers, printers, school janitors, teachers, public relations people and executives from both welfare groups and private industry, major advertising agency personnel, ham radio operators, the ball clubs and sportswriters. Even this listing, long as it is, is incomplete.

Here is how the system worked in preparing an SOS site. The Cleveland Wholesale Drug Company, on the East side of Cleveland was a supply center for the Eastern half of the county. McKesson-Robbins Wholesale Drug Company, on the West side served the west side of Cuyahoga County. The Drug Companies were of particular importance in relation to two aspects of vaccine supply. Dilution and mixing of the concentrated vaccine, and distribution and control of vaccine supplies at the clinic sites on the day of each Sabin Oral Sunday.

The clinics for Sabin Oral Sunday were opened between the hours of 12 to 6 p.m. Heaviest clinic attendance occurred between 12 and 2:30 p.m. during which time approximately 40% of the population served by each clinic site was processed. The program undoubtedly was influenced by the clergy in the emphasis that the vaccination program was important.

Some of the suburban clinics handled as many as 25,000 people per Sunday. A total of 5,000,000 sugar cubes were used. Also, 5,000,000 tiny paper cups (each person was handed a paper cup with a cube of sugar for him to swallow). Seven thousand pencils were needed. 7,500,000 registration forms. 140 ice chests plus tally sheets, masking tape, clip boards, droppers, paper clips, rubber bands. Some 250,000 posters were placed throughout Cleveland. 500,000 brochures were sent out and 7,500,000 registration forms were distributed. The SOS telephone was CE 1-8000. This “polio” number had such traffic that seven sets were installed with 9 lines on each. The SOS staff and teams from the women’s auxiliary at the Academy worked the telephones.

Six hospitals—Lakewood, Parma, Fairview Park, Suburban Community, Huron Road, Euclid Glenville, and Maywood Office, Academy Call Service, were used as satellite stations to shorted delivery time of supplies.

Perhaps the general impression of the Cleveland SOS program by one observer from New Jersey might sum up the outside viewpoint. This observer said, “Unquestionably, the high regard with which the Academy of Medicine is held by the lay population as well as the professional community in Cleveland was most influential in initiating the program and in carrying it through successful completion”.

In the words of Dr. Albert B. Sabin, developer of the Sabin Oral Vaccine, “There has been no record like that anywhere in the world. This is the most extraordinary response I have ever heard anywhere. You people in Cleveland must have done a remarkable job. This is a unique achievement in all the world. I hope that somebody does a real job of analyzing the reasons for your great success so that they can be passed on to other cities to help them.”

This demonstrates, in part, the tremendous heart of Cleveland and its people. Probably no other large metropolitan city has ever demonstrated such heart consistently and in as many ways.

That Cleveland could turn out 1,500,000 people in orderly fashion to take the vaccine, with only a scant seven weeks in which to prepare the crash campaign, comes as a shocking surprise to some people, both in and out of town, unacquainted with the city’s day in, day out accomplishments and capabilities.

As AMCNO leadership noted at the time, Greater Cleveland is the unsung great city of America until a given program stuns people into its worth. Louis B. Seltzer, editor of The Cleveland Press and News said of the program; “I think that SOS was the greatest outpouring of community consciousness in the history of America’s Great cities. It could succeed only in Cleveland among major metropolitan areas. It proves that the heart and soul of Cleveland are just what we always have believed them to be. It was a terrific job of organization and probably the greatest piece of promotion and public relations we have ever seen.”

Mayor Anthony J. Celebrezze: “The dramatic and unparalleled success of the initial Sabin Oral Sundays throughout Greater Cleveland is a tribute to the citizens who participate to the physicians and others who conducted the program. More than that, it sustains our great tradition as a community which always has placed the health and welfare of all its people foremost among its many civic programs.”

Vic Werts, Detroit Tigers first baseman, and former polio patient when he was a member of the Cleveland Indians; “Where else can anyone get a sugar cube insurance policy that will guarantee him protection from polio, and prevent him from spreading polio to his kids, grandkids and neighbor’s kids?”

An unidentified policeman at one of the Eastside distribution centers; “This is the damndest, most fantastic traffic jam I’ve ever seen in 26 years on the force—but nobody is sore about it. And neither an I.”

A leading surgeon at 7:45 P.M., May 27, the end of a hot day: “Today I was damned proud to be a doctor and a member of the Academy of Medicine.”