Dr. Jonas Salk was an American medical researcher, physician, and virologist who developed the first safe and effective inactivated polio vaccine. Before this vaccine was created, polio vaccines usually contained live, weakened forms of the virus, but Salk developed a vaccine that contained an inactivated, dead form of polio, the first of its kind. Until the Salk vaccine was introduced on April 12, 1955, polio was considered the most frightening health problem in the United Sates. Just 3 years before the vaccine was released, almost 58,000 cases were reported, with 3,145 deaths and 21,269 paralyzed. Most of the victims were children, leaving them scarred for the rest of their lives, which, depending on how bad they were affected, wasn’t long. Because of this, scientist were frantic in finding a way to cure or at least prevent the disease, with massive support from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the world’s most recognized victim. Thanks to Dr. Salk, the people of the U.S., and the world, could stop worrying, at least about something.
Jonas Edward Salk was born on October 28, 1914 in New York City. His parents were from Jewish immigrant families, and they never received a full education, but like most parents, they wanted better for their children, and were determined to see them succeed. When Salk was 13, he attended Townsend Harris High School, a public school for gifted children, where students had to learn a four-year curriculum in three years. As a result, most of the students who graduated, would have the grades to enroll in the City College of New York, known for being a highly competitive college. That is exactly what Salk did, entering CCNY when he was 15 and earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934. He then entered the New York University School of Medicine and earned his M.D. in 1939. But he did not wish to become a physician, even though he had the necessary qualifications. Instead, he went into medical research, even studying biochemistry for a year before focusing on bacteriology, his main interest.
After his postgraduate work and residency, Salk accepted a job working on an army-commissioned project to develop an influenza vaccine. He and a Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. eventually perfected a vaccine that was soon used on army bases. But Salk wanted a position where he could direct his own lab, and he finally found one at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine, where he continued to research influenza vaccines. It was at this point that he was approached by the director of research at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, a project established by FDR to eradicate polio. The director asked Salk if he wanted to join the project, and he quickly accepted the offer.
Poliomyelitis, or polio, was a viral disease that had researchers baffled for years. It would enter the body orally, establish itself in the intestines, and affect the nerves, then travelled to the brain, usually leading to partial or full paralysis. It was the...