The history of polio vaccination with “Sabin’s OPV” 60 years after its introduction in Italy: an unforgivable “delay”


history of vaccines and vaccinations
Sabin’s OPV
public health



In the spring of 1964, polio vaccination with the oral vaccine developed by Albert Sabin began in Italy. Polio was feared in the world and in Italy. Thus, between 1957 and the beginning of 1958, Italian children began receiving the “Salk vaccine”, though the results were not particularly convincing. In July 1960, the international scientific community was able to verify the data from the mass testing of the Sabin vaccine. It became clear that the OPV, could prevent the virus from multiplying, thereby providing greater protection and determining the eradication of the disease. In 1960 over 70 million people in the USSR alone had already received the oral vaccine and mass vaccination in the USA would start in March 1961. However, in Italy there was no similar initiative; only later the new vaccine was accepted but was not made compulsory at the beginning. As a result of the commission’s report, registration of the “Polioral” vaccine, was authorized in September 1962 but the sale of the vaccine was not authorized until November 1963.  At the beginning of 1964, the production of “Polioral” started and the product was marketed and on the 1 st of March 1964, anti-polio vaccination with the “Sabin anti-polio vaccine” also began in Italy.

This manuscript focuses on a crucial issue about a historical delay for public health and it points out as the preparation and diffusion of the Sabin polio vaccine demonstrates that decisions regarding health treatments, and specifically vaccination campaigns, must be based exclusively on the results of clinical studies and on independent evaluation by the scientific community. This process ensures trust in vaccines, adequate protection of public health andcitizens’ well-being.


Cosmacini G. Storia della medicina e della sanità nell’Italia contemporanea, Laterza, Roma, 1994.

Martini M, Orsini D. The fight against poliomyelitis through the history: past, present and hopes for the future. Albert Sabin's missing Nobel and his "gift to all the world's children". Vaccine. 2022 Nov 8;40(47):6802-6805. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2022.09.088.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, (year 1954). Available at: Accessed on: 28/02/2024.

Trevelyan B, Smallman-Raynor M, Cliff AD. The Spatial Dynamics of Poliomyelitis in the United States: From Epidemic Emergence to Vaccine-Induced Retreat, 1910-1971. Ann Assoc Am Geogr. 2005;95(2):269-293. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00460.x.

Roth P. Nemesis. VINTAGE, London 2010 Epub ISBN 9781446401101.

Tan SY, Ponstein N. Jonas Salk (1914-1995): A vaccine against polio. Singapore Med J. 2019 Jan;60(1):9-10. doi: 10.11622/smedj.2019002.

Offit PA. The Cutter incident, 50 years later. N Engl J Med. 2005 Apr 7;352(14):1411-2. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp048180.

Rosselli R, Martini M, Fluad Effect Working Group, Bragazzi NL, Watad A. The public health impact of the so-called “Fluad effect” on the 2014/2015 influenza vaccination campaign in Italy: ethical implications for health-care workers and health com- munication practitioners. Adv Exp Med Biol 2017;973:125-34.

Mahroum N, Watad A, Rosselli R, Brigo F, Chiesa V, Siri A, Ben- Ami Shor D, Martini M, Bragazzi NL, Adawi M. An infodemio- logical investigation of the so-called “Fluad effect” during the 2014/2015 influenza vaccination campaign in Italy: ethical and historical implications. Hum Vaccin Immunother 2018;14:712-8.

Martini M, Orsini D. The ghost of polio haunts us once again. The appeal of the scientific community is clear: "Vaccinate your kids today!". Vaccine. 2023 Aug 14;41(36):5338-5341. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2023.07.029.

Orsini D, Martini M. Albert Bruce Sabin: The Man Who Made the Oral Polio Vaccine. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2022, 28 (3): 743-746 DOI 10.3201/eid2803.204699.

Sabin A. Present status of field trials with an oral, live attenuated Poliovirus Vaccine. Annali Sclavo 1959; 1(5): 463.

Quarleri J. Poliomyelitis is a current challenge: long-term sequelae and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. Geroscience. 2023 Apr;45(2):707-717. doi: 10.1007/s11357-022-00672-7.

Lopalco PL. Wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus circulation, and implications for polio eradication. Epidemiol Infect. 2017 Feb;145(3):413-419. doi: 10.1017/S0950268816002569.

Martini M, Orsini D. Achille Sclavo (1861-1930) and His Innovative Contributions to Italian Preventive Medicine and Healthcare Policy. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2022;1369:107-116. doi: 10.1007/5584_2021_673. Erratum in: Adv Exp Med Biol. 2022;1369:131-133.

Orsini D, Martini M. The history of vaccinology and hygiene through Achille Sclavo and the cultural patrimony conserved in the archives and museums: the key role of medical museology. J Prev Med Hyg. 2022 Oct 27;63(3):E476-E481. doi: 10.15167/2421-4248/jpmh2022.63.3.2622.

Archivio Sabin, Lettera di A. Giovanardi a A. Sabin, 31 luglio 1959; Lettera di A. Sabin a A. Giovanardi, 8 agosto 1959, in Leoncini P, Neri P., La guerra dei vaccini. Cosa può insegnare la vicenda di Albert B. Sabin, Passigli Editori, Firenze, 2022.

“Corriere della Sera”, 8 agosto 1961.

Atti parlamentari della Camera dei Deputati, seduta del 19 giugno 1962.

Gazzetta Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana, n. 224 del 5 settembre 1962, pp. 3622-3625.

Sabin A. Risultati della vaccinazione orale antipolio nel mondo. Clinica Europea 1968; VII (6).

Senato della Repubblica italiana. G. Mancini e la campagna Anti-polio 1964. Serie II_s.serie 1_UA 1.

Mazzetti, G. La vita e l’opera di Achille Sclavo, Siena: Tip. Istituto Vaccinogeno Toscano A. Sclavo, 1949.

Martini M, Bifulco M, Orsini D. Smallpox vaccination and vaccine hesitancy in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1801) and the great modernity of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon: a glimpse of the past in the era of the SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. Public Health. 2022 Dec;213:47-53. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2022.09.012.

Parodi A, Martini M. History of vaccine and immunization: Vaccine-hesitancy discussion in Germany in XIX century.Vaccine. 2023 Mar 17;41(12):1989-1993.doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2023.02.029.

MacDonald NE. SAGE Working group on Vaccine Hesitancy: Definition, scope and determinans. Vaccine 2015; 33:4161-4.

Orsini D, Bianucci R, Galassi FM, Lippi D, Martini M. Vaccine hesitancy, misinformation in the era of Covid-19: Lessons from the past. Ethics Med Public Health. 2022 Oct;24:100812. doi: 10.1016/j.jemep.2022.100812.

Wolbert JG, Rajnik M, Higginbotham K. Poliomyelitis. 2024 Jan 24. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–.

WHO - World Health Organization. (‎2021)‎. Polio Eradication Strategy 2022–2026. Delivering on a promise. Available at: Accessed on: 28/02/2024.

Ministero della Salute. Piano Nazionale di Prevenzione Vaccinale (PNPV 2023-2025). Available at: Accessed on 27/03/2024.

Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Available at: Accessed on 27/03/2024.

Mathur P, Kottilil S. Novel oral polio vaccine for serotype 2: new hope. Lancet Infect Dis. 2024 Mar;24(3):223-224. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(23)00549-2.

Devaux CA, Pontarotti P, Levasseur A, Colson P, Raoult D. Is it time to switch to a formulation other than the live attenuated poliovirus vaccine to prevent poliomyelitis? Front Public Health. 2024 Jan 8;11:1284337. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2023.1284337.

O'Grady M, Bruner PJ. Polio Vaccine. 2023 Jan 16. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–.