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Remembering Jonas Salk, Vaccine Pioneer

The inventor of the Polio vaccine would have turned 100 today

Zachary Schrieber
October 28, 2014
Dr Jonas Salk on May 28, 1959 at the Copenhagen airport. (Wikimedia)
Dr Jonas Salk on May 28, 1959 at the Copenhagen airport. (Wikimedia)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jonas Salk, the doctor who invented the Polio vaccine in 1952. (Salk died in 1995 at age 80). Although SARS, Swine Flu, and now Ebola have recently captured national attention, none of them had the same nationwide debilitating effects of Polio, which “crippled an average of more than 35,000 people” per year in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Dr. Salk was born and raised in New York City. The son of Jewish immigrants, he attended City College for undergraduate studies and received his M.D. from NYU. Instead of pursuing a career as a practitioner though, he took a job as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh where, after years of work, he developed the Polio vaccine.

Beginning in 1954, and lasting nearly two years, a large clinical trial was held involving nearly two million people, including children, doctors, nurses, and teachers. The results proved to be an overwhelming success. By the early 1960s, less than 1,000 new cases of Polio were reported, and the disease was eradicated in the United States in 1979. (The vaccine is still given to children and to prevent infection while travelling overseas).

Later in life, Salk pursued a vaccine-like treatment for AIDS, although he died before he was able to discover one.

Google is celebrating Salk’s birthday with a doodle depicting children playing and holding a sign that reads, “Thank You Dr. Salk.”

Zack Schrieber is an intern at Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zschrieber.