Jonas Salk was born in New York to proud Russian
and Jewish immigrant parents. Though the family was materially
poor and lacked formal education, they urged their children to
work and study hard. Jonas Salk was the first sibling to enter
the City College of New York to study Law, but fate intervened
and he entered medical school instead of getting a law degree
at the New York University.
The United States of America in the summer 1950 is a historical
time to note. This is a season to remember as the bleakest in
the history of health care in the country. This was a time when
mothers cringed every time a child was incapacitated or died because
of the affliction of poliomyelitis, or commonly known as polio.
Thousands of children became afflicted with this crippling disease
all over the country.
Scientists, microbiologists worked hard to find an antidote, and
finally their efforts and hard work paid off. On April 12, 1955
an official announcement was made that Dr. Jonas Salk has finally
developed a vaccine that will once and for all eradicate polio.
Dr. Jonas Salk became an overnight sensation not only in the United
States but worldwide.
But who is Dr. Jonas Salk?
Jonas Salk, while still in medical school, was invited to do some
research on the recently discovered influenza virus. Eager to learn,
Salk succeeded in his research by depriving the virus the ability
to infect and in so doing giving immunity to the illness as well.
Thus in 1938, together with microbiologist Thomas Francis Jr., Salk
developed the first vaccine on influenza and was used extensively
by the Armed Forces in World War II. This became the foundation
of his research on polio later on.
After completing medical school and his internship, he went back
to the study of influenza, the flu virus. In 1947, Jonas Salk accepted
residency at the Medical School of the University of Pittsburgh
and worked with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
It was here that he devoted 8 years of his life working to develop
the polio vaccine. In 1952 his vaccine was developed; he and his
family including his staff and volunteers were first inoculated
to test its effectiveness.
The vaccine proved successful as everybody who received the test
vaccine started producing anti-bodies against the virus so that
nobody else became inflicted with polio and no side effect was observed.
Jonas Salk published the results in the Journal of the American
Medical Association the following year and a nationwide testing
was made. It was during this time that worst polio outbreak happened
involving 57,628 cases. It was Salk's former mentor Thomas Francis
Jr. that helped and directed the mass vaccination of schoolchildren.
The success of the vaccination put Jonas Salk's fame forward and
endeared himself to the public when he refused to patent the vaccine
and the accompanying financial remuneration. Dr. Jonas Salk in his
statement "merely wished to see the vaccine disseminated as
widely as possible". The March of Dimes, a non-government organization
hoping to boost publicity and raise donation to fund the vaccination
programs praised the achievements of Salk to the point of offending
In 1963 he founded the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies,
a center devoted solely for medical and scientific research. His
last years were devoted to finding a vaccine against AIDS. Dr. Jonas
Salk died on June 23, 1995. He was 80 years old.
Rumor Has It …
Jonas Salk liked to go down to the racetrack on occasion and place
a wager or two on the ponies. But, he didn't stop there. According
to unconfirmed reports, Jonas Salk like to sneak back into the stables
behind the racetrack and actually spank the horses on their behinds.
No one knows why he like to do this, but on more than one occasion
he was spotted coming back into the stands with a horseshoe imprint
upon his forehead.
Written by Kevin Lepton