The Polio Crusade: How America Learned to Love Vaccines

CLICK HERE for Ep. 6: Ohio v. Vaccines

Alex dives into the biggest medical experiment of the 20th Century: the development of the polio vaccines and the story of rivalry between its creators, Drs. Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk. A disease that was terrorizing parents all over the United States, the polio virus changed American medical history. We sit down with four amazing medical experts to discuss the polio crusade and its lessons for our current vaccine debates while analyzing the efforts of Dr. Albert Sabin from Cincinnati, Ohio and his oral polio vaccine that helps to nearly rid the world of this terrible virus.

Dr. Paul Offit joins the show to discuss the terror that was the polio epidemic in the first half of the 20th Century and how America ultimately took the experimental vaccines in overwhelming numbers. Offit, from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Board has written extensively on the polio virus. Dr. Offit’s new book You Bet Your Life (2021) discusses how there’s inherent and very real risk involved in all medical innovations in our history. Polio and COVID-19 are no exception. Paul discusses the “Cutter Incident” in 1955, which stopped the polio vaccination process and his thoughts on vaccine skepticism in modern times. Buy Dr. Offit’s new book here:

We’re joined by Brandy Schillace, science historian and author, to discuss the rivalry between Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk and why polio becomes such a problem for middle class America in the 1950s. Brandy teaches us about the importance of the messaging in the success of the polio vaccine rollout and its stark differences as a case study compared to the COVID vaccine rollout. Brandy’s new book Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher (Simon & Schuster 2021) can be purchased here and it’s a truly fantastic read.

Michael Flamm, professor of history at Ohio Wesleyan University, joins the program for the first and likely not the last time. Professor Flamm is the creator of How 1954 Changed the World on and he joins the program to discuss “the greatest public health experiment” in US history up until that time. Professor Flamm highlights the careers of Sabin and Salk, their epic rivalry and how the Greatest Generation embraced the polio vaccine despite the uncertainties.

Dr. Randy Sharma joins the program to discuss the effects of the polio virus on its child victims in the 1940s and 50s, things like the terrible solitude of the “iron lungs” and Sabin’s early vaccine trials in Chillicothe and Cincinnati, Ohio.

We’re proud to be part of the Evergreen Podcast Network. Go to for our show and dozens of other great podcasts. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Alex by email at with a future show idea or to buy one of our great Ohio v. the World t-shirts.

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