‘Grazie! Grazie!’ Italian Sculpture Honoring Polio Vaccine Presented to MAPMG


The venerable Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C., a private social club for women and men distinguished in science, literature, the arts or public service, recently awarded the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG) a gift from the club’s collection of artwork with a special significance to Permanente Medicine.

The statue, titled “Grazie! Grazie!” is a 3-foot high metal sculpture commissioned by the Government of Italy to honor Dr. Albert Sabin for his lifetime of achievement in the development of vaccines, particularly the oral poliomyelitis vaccine. Dr. Sabin donated the statue to Cosmos, where he was a member, in 1986.

Through a combination of effort and fortune, the statue was placed in the care of MAPMG Associate Medical Director Bruce Wollman, MD, who in turn allowed the statue to be prominently displayed at the Center for Total Health in Washington D.C.

The story and symbolism behind the work of art has an especially strong resonance for Dr. Wollman, who manages Governmental Relations, Healthcare Utilization, Pharmacy and Pathology/Laboratory Services for the medical group. Inside the statue display case at the Center for Total Health, a Kaiser Permanente placard emphasizes the prevention of illness as a “core tenet of our organization.”

“To me, the statue literally embodies the meaning of ‘Permanente Medicine,” Dr. Wollman said. “The story of this unique artifact is amazing.”

In post-WWII Italy, polio epidemics infected thousands of Italians, mainly babies and toddlers. Favored for its improved resistance to re-infection, the Italian government adopted Sabin’s oral live-attenuated vaccine as part of a mass-vaccination campaign in the mid-60s and through the 1970s, effectively eradicating polio in Italy.

In addition to proclaiming “Grazie! Grazie!” (“Thank you! Thank you!” in Italian) to express gratitude to Dr. Sabin, a plaque affixed to the base of the statue reads: “This represents people coming from all over the world, bringing wreaths and praise to Dr. Sabin for his having brought relief of suffering to so many.”

The Cosmos Club determined that, with MAPMG’s record in population health and immunizations, we were the most fitting organization to which to donate the statue.

“We felt grateful and honored to connect with Dr. Bruce Wollman and the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group during our search for a new home for this sculpture,” said Stephanie Frost, Cosmos Club Art Collections Manager and Curatorial Assistant. “We wanted to be sure it went somewhere that it could be presented to the public and appropriately appreciated for its significance in the history of medicine and have no doubt that we have made the perfect choice.”

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