A Different ‘True’ Story of ‘Balto’
The movie “Balto” is advertised as being based on the true story of a sled dog who brought a life-saving vaccine to Alaska in the early ‘20s.
However, in the 1949 book “The Drug Story,” an expose of the pharmaceutical industry, author Morris Bealle told another version of the incident: Manufacturers of the diphtheria vaccine, needing a way to bolster sagging sales, decided to hype a supposed outbreak of the illness in Nome, Alaska. Although their drug could easily have been flown in, it was deemed more newsworthy to send it by dog sled, where the media could excitedly report each day’s progress. The cutest dog was selected to lead and was given the catchy name Balto.
After what was more a grim ordeal than heroic adventure, the medicine arrived in Nome. Unfortunately, Nome only had a few sniffles and sore throats common to the season. Embarrassed vaccine promoters announced they’d perform wide-scale vaccination anyway to prevent any future epidemic, an effort that ended up causing the biggest outbreak of diphtheria in Nome’s history.