Sabin Gold Medal Award Honors Dr. Paul Offit
Last night, more than one hundred guests joined together to honor Dr. Paul Offit as the recipient of the 2018 Sabin Gold Medal. Colleagues, family, friends and peers gathered at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Dr. Offit’s contributions to immunization, including his achievements as the co-inventor of an oral rotavirus vaccine and his leadership as a vocal and dedicated advocate for immunization.
Every year, the Sabin Vaccine Institute recognizes a distinguished member of the public health community who has made extraordinary contributions in vaccinology or a complementary field. The Sabin Gold Medal commemorates the legacy of Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the developer of the oral polio vaccine that has helped bring poliovirus to the brink of eradication.
“We are thrilled to recognize Paul for his contributions to science and his leadership to bolster confidence in vaccines worldwide,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, Sabin’s president of Global Immunization. "Vaccines have shaped the world around us. And if we tell their story well – honestly and clearly – we can help keep communities around the world healthy."
Dr. Offit is widely known for his research on rotavirus, which is the most common cause of diarrheal hospitalizations and deaths among children. Dr. Offit’s research, alongside the late Dr. H Fred Clark and Dr. Stanley Plotkin, led to the invention of RotaTeq®, an oral vaccine that prevents rotavirus diarrhea. Within a decade of the vaccine’s introduction in the United States, child hospitalizations from rotavirus dropped by 85 percent. Today, RotaTeq® alongside another rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix®, is credited with saving thousands of children’s lives and preventing illness in children around the world.
At last night’s ceremony, Dr. Offit was also recognized for his contributions to protecting human health outside the laboratory. As founder and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Offit is a strong public advocate for childhood immunizations. He drives efforts to improve public understanding of vaccines through speaking engagements, media appearances and his numerous books. Together with his research, Dr. Offit’s outspoken advocacy exemplifies Dr. Albert Sabin’s commitment to reducing human suffering.
“It happens that I knew Albert Sabin quite well,” said Dr. Plotkin, emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and the recipient of the 2002 Sabin Gold Medal for his work to develop a rubella vaccine. “And Dr. Sabin was one who did not mince his words or shrink from a fight. Paul’s accomplishments have been arduous and it is fitting that he receive the Sabin award for a lifetime of activity on behalf of public health, vaccines and common sense.”
Until the end of his life, Dr. Sabin championed polio eradication and immunization, and challenged world leaders and scientists alike to confront issues of poverty, disease and despair. To ensure the oral polio vaccine would remain accessible and affordable, Dr. Sabin donated his polio vaccine strains to the World Health Organization for use around the world.
The Sabin Vaccine Institute carries on Dr. Sabin’s legacy of leading a life in service to science and humanity. Amy Finan, chief executive officer of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, spoke to this shared mission.
“Just like Dr. Sabin, the institute founded in his honor works across many aspects of immunization – from vaccine development to delivery – from aiding research and discovery to training immunization managers,” Finan said. “And tonight, we honor another determined public advocate…Dr. Paul Offit.”
“RotaTeq is the professional accomplishment of which I am most proud, but I was lucky,” Dr. Offit said, speaking of his gratitude toward accomplished vaccine researchers Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark, who became his mentors and friends. “Both men were also powerful advocates,” said Dr. Offit. “I just wanted to keep my head down, publish papers, get grants, and survive in academic medicine. But Stan and Fred both made it clear that this wasn’t enough. If your expertise was to be fully realized, then you needed to get into the game, no matter the cost.”
“Whenever I am asked to receive these honors,” Dr. Offit continued, “I always feel like they are somewhat undeserved. Or at the very least, that Stan and Fred should always be standing here next to me. And in a sense, they always are.”
The crowd of colleagues, friends and family in attendance at last night’s ceremony was a testament to Dr. Offit’s outsized impact in the vaccine community. The diverse audience included representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Fogarty International Center.