Polio and Jonas Salk

In 1955, medical researcher Jonas Salk introduced a vaccine for which disease?

And the answer is: polio.

Photo Courtesy: History.com

After helping to develop a vaccine for influenza in the 1940s, Dr. Jonas Salk received funding to develop a polio vaccine. Several of his contemporaries were involved in similar research, but Dr. Salk's version included a non-live version of the poliovirus, which was considered safer.

The "non-live" quality of the vaccine meant using and killing portions of the live virus with formaldehyde. Once injected, the body is tricked into creating protective antibodies without needing to inject a portion of the active virus in patients. Though to some it seemed controversial at the time, Salk had full confidence in his vaccine. He even went so far as to inject himself and his family with it before widespread distribution began. Each reported the initial success of the vaccine.

While polio was made out to be quite a threat of the age, it was far from the world's most deadly killer. In reality, many more children lost their lives to cancer or car accidents than the disease. Yet, with the mobilization of support for Franklin Roosevelt following his contraction of the disease in 1921, the public was quick to the vaccine. In the two years before the vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.

The disease has since been nearly eradicated from the planet. Yet, interestingly, Salk never made profit off of the hugely influential vaccine. The scientist instead voiced his desire to make it as widely accessible as he could, famously asking: "Could you patent the sun?"

Learn more about Salk's life and legacy below.

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