Drive-Thru Polio Clinic

Late 1940s brought a new concept to American dining: the drive-thru window.

The drive-thru was a quick, convenient take on the popular drive-in restaurant of the time, best remembered by its carhops on roller skates and trays attached to the car window during the heydays of cruising in the 1950s and 1960s.

So why talk about the advent of the drive-thru window in a blog largely focused on health care and medicine?

June 24, 1962: Henry Ford Hospital's drive-thru Oral Polio Vaccine Program in the hospital parking garage. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System.

June 24, 1962: Henry Ford Hospital’s drive-thru Oral Polio Vaccine Program in the hospital parking garage. From the Conrad R. Lam Collection, Henry Ford Health System.

In the early 1960s, medicine borrowed a page from the drive-thru window’s concept of fast, “don’t-even-need-to-leave-your-car” convenience in a radical effort to eradicate polio – a crippling disease that sicken tens of thousands of Americans in the early 20th century.

Most people infected with the polio virus had no symptoms; however, for the less than 1% who developed paralysis it resulted in permanent disability and even death.

Henry Ford Hospital was one of many hospital across the nation to host a drive-thru polio vaccination program in the 1960s. The Oral Polio Vaccine Program was directed by Dr. Edward L. Quinn, founder of the hospital’s division of Infectious Diseases.

During the three-hour event on June 24, 1962, 438 cars made their way through the hospital’s parking garage. In all, 1,595 doses of the Sabin Oral Vaccine were administered.

(I hope the vaccine was as good as the Sunshine Berry SONIC Splash that I have a taste for right now, but I am sure the people at SONIC will not claim their product can prevent a major infectious disease!)

This year, as we celebrate our 100th anniversary this year, we mark another medical milestone: the 60th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine.

The introduction of the injectable vaccine in 1955 by Dr. Jonas Salk was one of the biggest medical advances in American history. Salk’s vaccine prevented the disease and eventually led to its remarkable decline.

Polio was one of the most feared diseases in America. Children on crutches and in iron lungs were the hallmark of what’s known as the “Polio Era” in America.

Summer epidemics paralyzed America. There were widespread closures of pools, amusements parks, and other places where children gathered with theatres warming moviegoers not to sit too close together.

During this time, Dr. Quinn had focused his laboratory research at Henry Ford on the epidemiology of infectious diseases as well as the evaluation of new antibiotics and vaccines and resistance of bacteria to therapeutic agents.

Although polio outbreaks began to surface from 1916 onward in the U.S., worsening outbreaks occurred in the 1940s and 1950s.

Dr. Quinn was a medical resident in 1942 at Henry Ford Hospital when he worked with cardiac surgeon Dr. Conrad Lam to deliver the new drug penicillin to 40 medical and surgical patients at the hospital.

Henry Ford Hospital was one of 10 nationwide selected to participate in the clinical trial (read more about that trial in this Doc in the D post).

After WWII, Dr. Quinn joined the hospital staff in 1946 and founded the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory in 1949.

Dr. Edward Quinn

Dr. Edward Quinn

He was also a founding member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and President of the Michigan Society of Infectious Diseases. And, in 1955 he established the hospital’s Infectious Diseases Fellowship program, one of the first in the country.

With polio at its peak in the early 1950s, Dr. Quinn co-led the first in an important series of international symposium at Henry Ford Hospital to discuss infectious diseases, including polio.

The 1953 meeting, “The Dynamics of Virus and Rickettsial Infections,” brought more than 400 attendees to Detroit.

Leading the discussion on polio at Henry Ford Hospital: Dr. Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin.

Dr. Sabin would go on to developed an oral polio vaccine in 1961, which was used during the “drive-thru” polio vaccination programs.

By 1979, the last case of naturally occurring polio was documented in the U.S.

Dr. Quinn served for nearly 40 years at the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Henry Ford, becoming division head emeritus in 1983.

His quest for improvements in caring for patients with infectious diseases would lead him and several of his colleagues, such as Drs. Frank Cox, Evelyn Fisher, Keith Burch, Louis Saravolatz and Norman Markowitz, to investigate bacterial endocarditis, drug resistant staphylococcus, and HIV/AIDS.

He will be remembered as a gentleman in every sense of the word and a consummate physician/investigator.

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