Jonas Edward Salk
Born: October 28, 1914, New York City, United States
Died: June 23, 1995, La Jolla, California,
Cause of death: Heart Failure.
Notable because:Changed the world for the better by discovering vaccine for Polio, thereby sparing many hundreds of thousands from suffering this cruel disease. Chose to not profit by patent for his invention by saying "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?". Was discouraged by the family of his first wife from marriage due to their perception of him as being lower class. Later married Pablo Picasso's mistress.
Jonas Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist, best known for his discovery and development of the first safe and effective polio vaccine. He was born in New York City to parents from Russian-Jewish immigrant families. Although they themselves did not have much formal education, they were determined to see their children succeed. While attending medical school at New York University, he stood out from his peers not just because of his academic prowess, but because he chose to do medical research instead of becoming a physician.
Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the postwar United States. Annual epidemics were increasingly devastating. The 1952 epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation's history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis, with most of the victims children. The "public reaction was to a plague", said historian William O'Neill. "Citizens of urban areas were to be terrified every summer when this frightful visitor returned." According to a 2009 PBS documentary, "Apart from the atomic bomb, America's greatest fear was polio. As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the world's most recognized victim of the disease and founded the organization that would fund the development of a vaccine.
In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1948, he undertook a project funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to determine the number of different types of polio virus. Salk saw an opportunity to extend this project towards developing a vaccine against polio, and, together with the skilled research team he assembled, devoted himself to this work for the next seven years. The field trial set up to test the Salk vaccine was, according to O'Neill, "the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers." Over 1,800,000 school children took part in the trial. When news of the vaccine's success was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a "miracle worker", and the day "almost became a national holiday." His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in a televised interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"
In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, which is today a center for medical and scientific research. He continued to conduct research and publish books, including Man Unfolding (1972), The Survival of the Wisest (1973), World Population and Human Values: A New Reality (1981), and Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983). Dr. Salk's last years were spent searching for a vaccine against HIV.
"Jonas Salk was born in New York City on October 28, 1914. His parents, Daniel and Dora Salk, were from Russian-Jewish immigrant families, and did not receive extensive formal education. According to historian David Oshinsky, Salk grew up in the "Jewish immigrant culture" of New York. He had two younger brothers, Herman and Lee. The family moved from East Harlem to the Bronx, with some time spent in Queens.
When he was 12, Salk entered Townsend Harris High School, a public school for intellectually gifted students. Named after the founder of City College of New York (CCNY), it was, wrote Oshinsky, "a launching pad for the talented sons of immigrant parents who lacked the money--and pedigree--to attend a top private school." In high school "he was known as a perfectionist...who read everything he could lay his hands on", according to one of his fellow students. Students had to cram a four-year curriculum into just three. As a result, most dropped out or flunked out, despite the school's motto "study, study, study." Of the students who graduated, however, most would have the grades to enroll in CCNY, noted for being a highly competitive college.
Salk enrolled in City College of New York from which he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934. Oshinsky writes that "for working-class immigrant families, City College represented the apex of public higher education. Getting in was tough but tuition was free. Competition was intense, but the rules were fairly applied. No one got an advantage based on an accident of birth."
At his mother's urging, he put aside aspirations of becoming a lawyer, and instead concentrated on classes necessary for admission to medical school. However, according to Oshinsky, the facilities at City College were "barely second rate." There were no research laboratories. The library was inadequate. The faculty contained few noted scholars. "What made the place special", he writes, "was the student body that had fought so hard to get there . . . driven by their parents. . . From these ranks, of the 1930s and 1940s, emerged a wealth of intellectual talent, including more Nobel Prize winners - eight - and PhD recipients than any other public college except the University of California at Berkeley." Salk entered City College at the age of 15, a "common age for a freshman who had skipped multiple grades along the way."
As a child, Salk did not show any interest in medicine or science in general. He says in an interview with the Academy of Achievement "As a child I was not interested in science. I was merely interested in things human, the human side of nature, if you like, and I continue to be interested in that. That's what motivates me. And in a way, it's the human dimension that has intrigued me."
According to Oshinsky, NYU based its modest reputation on famous alumni, such as Walter Reed, who helped conquer yellow fever. Tuition was "comparatively low, better still, it did not discriminate against Jews, ... while most of the surrounding medical schools - Cornell, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale - had rigid quotas in place." Yale, for example, accepted 76 applicants, in 1935, out of a pool of 501. Although 200 of the applicants were Jewish, only five got in.
During his years at the New York University School of Medicine he stood out from his peers, according to Bookchin, "not just because of his continued academic prowess -- he was Alpha Omega Alpha, the Phi Beta Kappa Society of medical education -- but because he had decided he did not want to practice medicine." Instead, he became absorbed in research, even taking a year off to study biochemistry. He later focused more of his studies on bacteriology which had replaced medicine as his primary interest. His said his desire was to help humankind in general rather than single patients. And as Oshinsky writes, "it was the laboratory work, in particular, that gave new direction to his life.
During his senior year in medical school he chose a two-month elective to work in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Francis. Francis had recently joined the faculty of the medical school after working for the Rockefeller Foundation, where he had discovered the Type B influenza virus. According to Bookchin, "the two month stint in Francis's lab was Salk's first introduction to the world of virology - and he was hooked." After graduating from medical school he began his residency at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, where he again worked in Francis's laboratory. Few hospitals in Manhattan had the status of Mount Sinai, particularly among the city's Jews. Oshinsky interviewed a friend of Salk's, who said, "to intern there was like playing ball for the New York Yankees ... only the top men from the nation's medical schools dared apply. Out of 250 who sought the opportunity, only a dozen were chosen."
According to Oshinsky, "Salk quickly made his mark." Although focused mainly on research, "he showed tremendous skills as a clinician and a surgeon." But it was "his leadership as president of the house staff of interns and residents at Mount Sinai that best defined him to his peers." The key issue for many of them in 1939, for example, was not the fate of the hospital, but rather the future of Europe after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. In one instance, "several interns responded by wearing badges to signify support for the Allies", but the hospital's director told them to remove them lest they upset some of the patients.
The interns then took the matter to Salk, where he said that "everyone should wear the badge as an act of solidarity." One intern recalled, "Jonas was a very staunch guy. He never took a backward step on that issue or any other issue of principle between us and the hospital." The hospital administrators backed off and there was no further interference from the director.
 Research career
At the end of his residency, Salk began applying for permanent research positions. But he discovered that many of the jobs he desired were closed to him due to Jewish quotas, which, according to Bookchin, "prevailed in so much of the medical research establishment." Nor could he apply at Mount Sinai as their policy prevented hiring their own interns. As a last resort, he contacted Dr. Francis for help. But Francis had left NYU a year earlier after accepting an offer to direct the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.
Salk in the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh
However, "Francis did not let him down", writes Bookchin. "He secured extra grant money and offered Salk a job" working on an army-commissioned project in Michigan to develop an influenza vaccine. He and Francis eventually perfected a vaccine that was soon widely used at army bases, where "Salk had been responsible for discovering and isolating one of the flu strains that was included in the final vaccine.
By 1947, Salk decided to find an institution where he could direct his own laboratory. After three institutions turned him down, he received an offer from William McEllroy, the dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, which included a promise that he would run his own lab. He accepted, and in the fall of that year left Michigan and relocated to Pennsylvania. But the promise was not quite what he expected. After Salk arrived at Pittsburgh, "he discovered that he had been relegated to cramped, unequipped quarters in the basement of the old Municipal Hospital", writes Bookchin. As time went on, however, he began securing grants from the Mellon family and was able to build a working virology laboratory, where he continued his research on flu vaccines.
He was later approached by the director of research at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and asked if he would like to participate on the foundation's polio project, which had earlier been established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the time thought to be a victim of polio himself. He quickly accepted the offer saying he "would be happy to work on this important project."
In 1956, Wisdom magazine ran a cover story about Salk, summarizing some of the reasoning behind his desire to do research:
There are two types of medical specialists. There are those who fight disease day and night, who assist mankind in times of despair and agony and who preside over the awesome events of life and death. Others work in the quiet detachment of the laboratory; their names are often unknown to the general public, but their research may have momentous consequences.
Polio was a medical oddity that baffled researchers for years. It was first recorded in 1835 and grew steadily more prevalent. It took a long time to learn that the virus was transmitted by fecal matter and secretions of the nose and throat. It entered the victim orally, established itself in the intestines, and then traveled to the brain or spinal cord.
At the start of the 20th century, during the 1914 and 1919 polio epidemics in the U.S., physicians and nurses made house-to-house searches to identify all infected persons. Children suspected of being infected were taken to hospitals and the child's family was quarantined until they were no longer potentially infectious, even if it meant they could not go to their child's funeral if the child died in the hospital. There are many famous polio victims, most of whom were able to overcome their disabilities, while others were less fortunate: Itzhak Perlman, one of the world's finest violinists, was permanently disabled at age four, and still plays sitting down; actor Donald Sutherland; writer Arthur C. Clarke; actress Mia Farrow; singer-musician Neil Young; actor Alan Alda; musician David Sanborn; singer Dinah Shore; singer Joni Mitchell; former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas; director Francis Ford Coppola; nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer; actor Lionel Barrymore; and Congressman James H. Scheuer.
According to American historian William O'Neill, "Paralytic poliomyelitis (its formal name) was, if not the most serious, easily the most frightening public health problem of the postwar era." He noted that the epidemics kept getting worse and its victims were usually children. By 1952 it was killing more of them than any other communicable disease. In the twenty states that reported the disease back in 1916, there were 27,363 cases. New York alone had 9,023 cases of which 2,448 (28%) resulted in death, and a larger number in paralysis. However, polio did not gain national attention until 1921, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, former vice presidential candidate and soon to be governor of New York, came down with a paralytic illness, at the time diagnosed as polio. At the age of 39, Roosevelt was left with severe paralysis and spent most of his presidency in a wheelchair.
Subsequently, as more states began recording instances of the disease, the numbers of victims grew larger. Nearly 58,000 cases of polio were reported in 1952, with 3,145 people dying and 21,269 left with mild to disabling paralysis. In some parts of the country, concern assumed almost the dimensions of panic. According to Olson, "parents kept children home from school, avoided parks and swimming pools, and played only in small groups with the closest of friends." Cases usually increased during the summer when children were home from school. "The public reaction was to a plague", noted O'Neill. "Citizens of urban areas were to be terrified every summer when this frightful visitor returned." As a result, Olson points out, "scientists were in a frantic race to find a cure."
Oshinsky writes that as "headlines screamed, 'Polio Scourge,' 'Polio Panic,' and 'Polio's Deadly Path,'" parents "faced a dilemma" and a feeling of personal helplessness in the midst of an "apparently runaway epidemic." Their "postwar culture was being turned upside down" as polio became the "crack in the fantasy" of a suburban home "bursting with children." Parents began to see that there would be an alternative, however: "Since worry did no good and quarantine seemed fruitless, parents might best protect their children by helping others to discover a vaccine against polio, and, perhaps, even a cure." The public soon realized that this kind of research demanded "big money" and an "army of devoted volunteers,":85-87 but Salk was determined to make it over this barrier.
The fight against polio did not really get under way until 1938 when the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was born. Basil O'Connor, the former law partner of President Roosevelt, the US' most famous polio victim, headed it. That same year, the first March of Dimes fundraising program was set up, with radio networks offering free 30-second slots for promotion. Listeners were asked to send in a dime and the White House received 2,680,000 letters within days.
Patients in iron lungs during 1952 epidemic
As the fear of polio increased each year, funds to combat it increased from $1.8 million to $67 million by 1955. Research continued during those years, but, writes O'Neill, "everything scientists believed about polio at first was wrong, leading them down many blind alleys... furthermore, most researchers were experimenting with highly dangerous live vaccines. In one test six children were killed and three left crippled."
"This was the situation when young Jonas Salk, a medical doctor in charge of a virology laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, decided to use the safer killed virus", writes O'Neill. Despite a general lack of enthusiasm for this approach, O'Connor backed Salk handsomely. After successful tests on laboratory animals, it next had to be tested on human beings. "Who would take the risk?" author Dennis Denenberg asked. "Dr. Jonas Salk did ... along with his wife and children, who also allowed themselves to be human guinea pigs." In November, 1953, at a conference in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, he said, "I will be personally responsible for the vaccine." He announced that his wife and three sons had been among the first volunteers to be inoculated with his vaccine.
It was critical that he develop the trust of the US public for his experiments and mass tests that would become necessary. An associate of his noted, "That boy really suffers when he sees a paralytic case. You look at him and you see him thinking, 'My God, this can be prevented'." An article in Wisdom notes that at one point "he even thought of giving up virus research":
But as he was sitting in a park and watching children play, he realized how important his work was. He saw that there were thousands of children and adults who would never walk again and whose bodies would be paralyzed. He realized his awesome responsibility, and so he continued his task with renewed vigor.
As a result of his preliminary results in 1954, "when polio was destroying more American children than any other communicable disease, Salk's vaccine was ready for field testing."
The field trial set up to test the vaccine developed by Salk and his research team was, according to O'Neill, "the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers", with over 1,800,000 school children participating in the trial. A 1954 Gallup poll showed that more Americans knew about the polio field trials than could give the full name of the US President. According to medical author Paul Offit, "more Americans had participated in the funding, development, and testing of the polio vaccine than had participated in the nomination and election of the president." At least one hundred million people had contributed to the March of Dimes, and seven million had donated their time and labor as well. They included fund-raisers, committee workers, and volunteers at clinics and record centers.
Doris Fleischer, a disability historian, noted that O'Connor was willing to take whatever risks necessary to serve the purposes of the foundation. She writes, "When O'Connor realized that success seemed imminent, he allowed the foundation to go into debt to finance the final research required to develop the Salk vaccine. His 'passionate' devotion to this task became almost 'obsessive' when his daughter, a mother of five, told him that she had contracted the illness, saying, 'I've gotten some of your polio.' "
With the hopes of the world upon him, "Salk worked sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for years...", wrote Denenberg.It had been, Salk later described, "two and a half years of drudgery and hard work."The results of the tests were eventually deemed successful and, O'Neill wrote, "Salk had justified Basil O'Connor's faith."
[On April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., of the University of Michigan, the monitor of the test results, "declared the vaccine to be safe and effective." The announcement was made at the University of Michigan, exactly 10 years to the day after the death of President Roosevelt. Five hundred people, including 150 press, radio, and television reporters, filled the room; 16 television and newsreel cameras stood on a long platform at the back; and 54,000 physicians, sitting in movie theaters across the country, watched the broadcast on closed-circuit television. Eli Lilly paid $250,000 to broadcast the event. Americans turned on their radios to hear the details, department stores set up loudspeakers, and judges suspended trials so that everyone in the courtroom could hear. Europeans listened on the Voice of America. Paul Offit writes about the event:
"The presentation was numbing, but the results were clear: the vaccine worked. Inside the auditorium Americans tearfully and joyfully embraced the results. By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: Thank you, Dr. Salk. 'It was as if a war had ended', one observer recalled."
"The report", wrote the New York Times, "was a medical classic." Dr. Francis reported that the vaccinations had been 80 to 90 percent effective on the basis of results in eleven states. Overall, the vaccine was administered to over 440,000 children in forty-four states, three Canadian provinces and in Helsinki, Finland, and the final report required the evaluation of 144,000,000 separate items of information. After the announcement, when asked whether the effectiveness of the vaccine could be improved, Salk said, "Theoretically, the new 1955 vaccines and vaccination procedures may lead to 100 percent protection from paralysis of all those vaccinated."
Within minutes of Francis's declaration that the vaccine was safe and effective, the news of the event was carried coast to coast by wire services and radio and television newscasts. According to Debbie Bookchin, "across the nation there were spontaneous celebrations, . . . . business came to a halt as the news spread. The mayor of New York City interrupted a city council meeting to announce the news, adding, 'I think we are all quite proud that Dr. Salk is a graduate of City College.'""By the next morning", writes Bookchin, "politicians around the country were falling over themselves trying to figure out ways they could congratulate Salk, with several suggesting special medals and honors be awarded.... In the Eisenhower White House, plans were already afoot to present Salk a special presidential medal designating him "a benefactor of mankind" in a Rose Garden ceremony.
It was also declared "a victory for the whole nation." Jonas Salk became "world famous overnight and was showered with awards", writes O'Neill. The governor of Pennsylvania had a medal struck, and the state legislature gave him a chaired professorship. However, New York City could not get him to accept a ticker tape parade. Instead New York created eight "Jonas Salk Scholarships" for future medical students. He received a Presidential Citation, the nation's first Congressional Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service, and a large number of honorary degrees and related honors.
According to O'Neill, "April 12th had almost become a national holiday: people observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factory whistles, fired salutes, kept their red lights red in brief periods of tribute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervid assemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled at strangers, and forgave enemies."
By July, movie studios were already fighting for the motion-picture rights to his film biography. Twentieth Century-Fox began writing a screenplay and Warner Brothers filed a claim to the title The Triumph of Dr. Jonas Salk shortly after the formal announcement of the vaccine.
Six months before Salk's announcement, optimism and hope were so widespread that the Polio Fund in the U.S. had already contracted to purchase enough of the Salk vaccine to immunize 9,000,000 children and pregnant women the following year. And around the world, the official news prompted an immediate international rush to vaccinate. Medical historian Debbie Bookchin writes, "Israel had committed to the Salk vaccine just days before the final report was released, and now Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, West Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium all announced plans to either immediately begin polio immunization campaigns using Salk's vaccine or to gear up to quickly do so. "Overnight", she adds, "Salk had become an international hero and a household name. His vaccine was a modern medical miracle."Because he was the first to prove that a killed-virus could prevent polio, medical historian Paul Offit wrote in 2007 that "for this observation alone, Salk should have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
By the summer of 1957, over two years later, 100,000,000 doses had been distributed throughout the United States and "reported complications following their administration have been remarkably rare", noted the scientists at the International Polio Conference in Geneva. Scientists from other nations reported similar experiences: Denmark, for example, "reported only a few sporadic cases among the 2,500,000 ... who received the vaccine." Australia reported virtually no polio during her past summer season.
Other countries where the vaccine was not yet in use suffered continued epidemics, however. In 1957, Hungary, for example, reported a severe epidemic requiring emergency international assistance. By the first half of the year they had 713 reported cases and a death rate of 6.6%, and the peak infection months of summer were still ahead. Canada sent a shipment of vaccine to Hungary by a refrigerated plane, and Britain and Sweden sent iron lungs. A few years later, during a polio outbreak in Canada, "masked bandits" stole 75,000 Salk vaccine shots from a Montreal university research center.
By the end of 1990 it was estimated that 500,000 annual cases worldwide of paralysis as result of polio had been prevented due to immunization programs carried out by WHO, UNICEF, and many other organizations. In developing countries, estimates ran as high as 350,000 cases each year in 1988. As a result, in 2002, more than 500 million children were immunized in 93 countries, and by December 2002, there were only 1,924 cases worldwide, with 1,599 of them in India. However, there were still six other countries where polio is suspected of being endemic: Afghanistan, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia. In 1991 transmission of polio was declared as "interrupted" in the Western hemisphere.
In 1993, China initiated a national immunization program with over 80 million children getting vaccinated in just 2 days; by the following year the country reported only 5 cases of polio.
In 2003, after an outbreak in Nigeria, international organizations spent $10 million to vaccinate 15 million children in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
During the 1970s, Latin America had an estimated 15,000 paralysis cases with about 1,750 deaths each year from polio. By 1991, the last case of polio was reported in Latin America and the Caribbean, and polio has now been declared as fully eliminated from the region.
Just two weeks after the vaccine was announced, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Democrat of Minnesota, urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower "to show the nation's gratitude to Dr. Jonas E. Salk for his new polio vaccine by 'loosening the purse-strings' on Federal medical research." Salk knew it would take time to verify his theories and improve the vaccine. "He still wants to find out a number of things about polio", wrote the New York Times that summer. Questions remained: "How long will the immunity last? Are there any children who cannot be immunized? What improvements can be made?" Beyond that, "he has far bigger goals - 'more in the nature of dreams right now' - involving other diseases."
Over the next few years, while trying to perfect the polio vaccine, Salk had begun working unannounced, on a cure for cancer. A 1958 article in the New York Times confirmed "that he had been conducting experiments on cancer patients." The news was leaked after a Pittsburgh newspaper, the Sun-Telegraph, reported that he had been giving injections to children suffering from cancer. Salk stated afterwards, "It is true that we have been conducting experiments in many persons with a variety of cancer and cancer-like conditions ... but we have no treatment for cancer. Our studies are of a strictly exploratory nature..." In 1965, he also said "a vaccine for the common cold is a matter of time and of solving some technical problems."
Years before the Salk vaccine was officially announced as safe, Dr. Albert Sabin had also joined in the search for a vaccine, using a live-virus, as opposed to Salk's killed-virus. Sabin, however, had been "openly hostile to Salk." Debbie Bookchin writes that he had been "perhaps accurately guessing that Salk was about to challenge him for ascendancy in the polio world." After one presentation that Salk made to a medical conference, "Sabin mounted a full-scale offensive, engaging in a piecemeal demolition of his presentation." However, the National Foundation "swiftly put its full weight behind Salk. Here, finally, was a polio researcher, they said, who had accomplished something."
By 1962 polio had almost become extinct, with only 910 cases reported that year - down from 37,476 in 1954. "It's a matter of principle", Salk said. "It is not a Salk versus Sabin controversy, a competition between two people... I had worked with influenza viruses, helping to establish the efficacy of a killed-virus vaccine... I demonstrated that it could be 100 percent effective if the quantity of virus in the vaccine was sufficient."
That same year the state of New York Health Department recommended "that the Salk vaccine be given preference over the Sabin oral vaccine..."
On October 20, 1998, after eighteen years of using the Sabin vaccine, however, the federal government recommended that children use the Salk vaccine exclusively. Sabin's polio vaccine is no longer available in the United States.
While OPV is no recommended by the CDD, its website explained that Sabin's OPV is more suited to areas where polio is endemic, because of "its advantages over IPV in providing intestinal immunity and providing secondary spread of the vaccine to unprotected contacts."
Looking back - Public confusion over which vaccine to use
In September 1962, public health officials in the U.S. and Canada faced a "major dilemma": whether or not to continue using the recently begun Sabin vaccine inoculations, until further studies were conducted, due to reports of polio cases among persons who had received it. The U.S. Surgeon General, Luther Terry, recommended a temporary halt due to sixteen cases of confirmed polio in adults. And "the Canadian Federal Health Department recommended against mass use of the [Sabin] oral vaccine pending further study of its effects." One of the unfortunate results caused by the controversy was that "many authorities have deplored the confusion that has been created in the public mind."
Due to the American Medical Association's (AMA) "obstructive tactics, however, which caused numerous delays", writes O'Neill, the AMA had called for mass vaccinations in early 1962 employing Sabin's vaccine rather than Salk's. However, writes O'Neill, "as live-virus was more dangerous, it caused an unknown number of polio cases... [but] the medical establishment seemed not to mind, having gotten its own way at last." But, concludes O'Neill, "polio was conquered all the same, even if not so quickly and safely as it might have been."
In 1980, Salk pointed out the "renewed interest in his killed virus vaccine, particularly in developing countries. "The live virus vaccine is highly effective in developed countries ...", he said, "but in the developing countries, where polio is on the increase, the drawback is that the live virus fails to establish the infection that leads to immunity because of intestinal inhibitors in the population."
Basil O'Connor enters the controversy
Two months after the Salk vaccine was announced to the world, in 1955, Basil O'Connor found it necessary to respond to critics of the vaccine, especially Dr. Sabin. As the President of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he said, during a news conference before a Congressional group in Washington, that "criticism of the Salk vaccine program by Dr. Albert Sabin of the University of Cincinnati was 'old stuff'." According to the New York Times, "Dr. Sabin recommended at a hearing before a House Investigating subcommittee that Salk inoculations be suspended" until a safer preparation could be perfected. O'Connor responded in a prepared statement:
"He's been using it [criticism] for years. He used it in an attempt to stop the field trials of the Salk vaccine... The Salk vaccine is safe and effective and will protect children from paralytic polio to the extent of 60 to 90 percent... In the United States, Canada and Denmark, 7,675,000 children have actually received the Salk vaccine with no untoward results. There could be no better proof of its safety than this. No vaccine in the history of the world has ever had such a test for safety. Anyone who would seek to prevent its use for other than unanswerable scientific reasons would be acting neither as a scientist nor as a humanitarian....
"Those who would prevent its use must be prepared to be haunted for life by the crippled bodies of little children who could have been saved from paralysis had they been permitted to receive the Salk vaccine."
However, a year and a half after the Salk vaccine was introduced, a Sabin vaccine had still not yet been tested on humans. Sabin himself said, in October 1956, that "the Salk vaccine is still the only protection against polio available to the public." He was hoping to be able to start tests on humans by the end of the year or by 1957.
In 1955 Cutter Laboratories was one of several companies licensed by the United States government to produce Salk's polio vaccine. In what came to be known as the Cutter Incident, a production error caused some lots of the Cutter vaccine to be tainted with live polio virus. It was one of the worst pharmaceutical disasters in U.S. history and caused several thousand children to be exposed to live polio virus, causing 56 cases of paralytic polio and 5 deaths.
On April 12, 1965, leaders of the Senate and House presented Salk with a joint resolution expressing the nation's gratitude to him, his colleagues in the project and the March of Dimes, which helped to finance the work. President Lyndon B. Johnson called him to the White House to congratulate him personally. Dr. Luther Terry, Surgeon General of the United States said in a statement marking the anniversary that only 121 cases of polio were reported the previous year, as opposed to more than 28,000 ten years ago. "This represents an historic triumph of preventive medicine - unparalleled in history", Dr. Terry said.
On May 6, 1985, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that day to be "Jonas Salk Day." Text of the proclamation is below:
One of the greatest challenges to mankind always has been eradicating the presence of debilitating disease. Until just thirty years ago poliomyelitis occurred in the United States and throughout the world in epidemic proportions, striking tens of thousands and killing thousands in our own country each year. Dr. Jonas E. Salk changed all that. This year we observe the 30th anniversary of the licensing and manufacturing of the vaccine discovered by this great American. Even before another successful vaccine was discovered, Dr. Salk's discovery had reduced polio and its effects by 97 percent. Today, polio is not a familiar disease to younger Americans, and many have difficulty appreciating the magnitude of the disorder that the Salk vaccine virtually wiped from the face of the earth.
Jonas E. Salk always had a passion for science. It was because of this that he finally chose medicine over law as his career goal. Even after his great discovery, he continued to undertake vital studies and medical research to benefit his fellowman. Under his vision and leadership, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has been in the forefront of basic biological research, reaping further benefits for mankind and medical science.
In recognition of his tremendous contributions to society, particularly for his role in the epochal discovery of the first licensed vaccine for poliomyelitis, and in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of its mass distribution, the Congress, by House Joint Resolution 258, has designated May 6, 1985, as "Dr. Jonas E. Salk Day" and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this event. Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 1985, as Dr. Jonas E. Salk Day. I urge the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate tributes, ceremonies, and activities throughout the Nation and by paying honor, at all times, to this outstanding physician and to his life's work. In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this sixth day of May, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and ninth.
Salk preferred not to have his career as a scientist affected by too much personal attention, as he had always tried to remain independent and private in his research and life. But this proved to be impossible. "Young man, a great tragedy has befallen you - you've lost your anonymity", the late television personality Ed Murrow said to Salk shortly after the onslaught of media attention. When Murrow asked him, "Who owns this patent?", Salk replied, "No one. Could you patent the sun?"
Author Jon Cohen noted that "Jonas Salk made scientists and journalists alike go goofy. As one of the only living scientists whose face was known the world over, Salk, in the public's eye, had a superstar aura. Airplane pilots would announce that he was on board, and passengers would burst into applause. Hotels routinely would upgrade him into their penthouse suites. A meal at a restaurant inevitably meant an interruption from an admirer... and scientists approached him with drop-jawed wonder, as though some of the stardust might rub off."
For the most part, however, Salk was "appalled at the demands on the public figure he has become and resentful of what he considers to be the invasion of his privacy", wrote the New York Times, a few months after his vaccine announcement. The Times article noted that "at 40, the once obscure scientist ... was lifted from his laboratory almost to the level of a folk hero." He received a Presidential citation, a score of awards, four honorary degrees, half a dozen foreign decorations, and letters from thousands of fellow citizens. His alma mater, City College of New York, gave him an honorary degree as Doctor of Laws. But "despite such very nice tributes", the New York Times wrote, "Salk is profoundly disturbed by the torrent of fame that has descended upon him.... He talks continually about getting out of the limelight and back to his laboratory... because of his genuine distaste for publicity, which he believes is inappropriate for a scientist."
During a 1980 interview, 25 years later, he said, "It's as if I've been a public property ever since, having to respond to external as well as internal impulses.... It's brought me enormous gratification, opened many opportunities, but at the same time placed many burdens on me. It altered my career, my relationships with colleagues; I am a public figure, no longer one of them."
"If Salk the scientist sounds austere", wrote the New York Times, "Salk the man is a person of great warmth and tremendous enthusiasm. People who meet him generally like him." A Washington newspaper correspondent commented, "He could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, and I never bought anything before." Award-winning geneticist Walter Nelson-Rees called him "a renaissance scientist: brilliant, sophisticated, driven... a fantastic creature."
He enjoys talking to people he likes, and "he likes a lot of people", wrote the Times. "He talks quickly, articulately, and often in complete paragraphs." And, notes the Times, "He has very little perceptible interest in the things that interest most people - such as making money." That belongs "in the category of mink coats and Cadillacs - unnecessary", he said.
In the years after his discovery, many supporters, in particular the National Foundation, "helped him build his dream of a research complex for the investigation of biological phenomena 'from cell to society'." It was called the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and opened in 1963 at La Jolla, California, just outside San Diego. Salk believed that the institution would help new and upcoming scientists along their careers as he said himself, "I thought how nice it would be if a place like this existed and I was invited to work there." This was something that Salk was deprived of early in his life, but due to his achievements, was able to provide for future scientists.
In 1966, Salk described his "ambitious plan for the creation of a kind of Socratic academy where the supposedly alienated two cultures of science and humanism will have a favorable atmosphere for cross-fertilization." Author and journalist Howard Taubman explained:
"Although he is distinctly future-oriented, Dr. Salk has not lost sight of the institute's immediate aim, which is the development and use of the new biology, called molecular and cellular biology, described as part physics, part chemistry and part biology. The broad-gauged purpose of this science is to understand man's life processes.
"There is talk here of the possibility, once the secret of how the cell is triggered to manufacture antibodies is discovered, that a single vaccine may be developed to protect a child against many common infectious diseases. There is speculation about the power to isolate and perhaps eliminate genetic errors that lead to birth defects.
"Dr. Salk, a creative man himself, hopes that the institute will do its share in probing the wisdom of nature and thus help enlarge the wisdom of man. For the ultimate purpose of science, humanism and the arts, in his judgment, is the freeing of each individual to cultivate his full creativity, in whichever direction it leads. . . As if to prepare for Socratic encounters such as these, the institute's architect, Louis Kahn, has installed blackboards in place of concrete facings on the walls along the walks."
The New York Times, in a 1980 article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Salk vaccine, described the current workings at the facility:
"At the institute, a magnificent complex of laboratories and study units set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, Dr. Salk holds the titles of founding director and resident fellow. His own laboratory group is concerned with the immunologic aspects of cancer and the mechanisms of autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues.
In an interview about his future hopes at the institute, he said, "In the end, what may have more significance is my creation of the institute and what will come out of it, because of its example as a place for excellence, a creative environment for creative minds."
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, was a leading professor at the institute until his death in 2004.
Beginning in the mid 1980s, Salk also engaged in research to develop a vaccine for another, more recent plague, AIDS. To further this research, he co-founded The Immune Response Corporation with Kevin Kimberlin, to search for a vaccine, and patented Remune, an immune-based therapy. The AIDS vaccine project was discontinued in 2007, twelve years after Jonas Salk's death in 1995.
Although many advances have been made in treating AIDS, "the world still waited for the miracle vaccine the conqueror of polio had sought", wrote historian Alan Axelrod.
In 1966, the New York Times referred to him as the "Father of Biophilosophy." According to Times journalist and author Howard Taubman, "he never forgets... there is a vast amount of darkness for man to penetrate. As a biologist, he believes that his science is on the frontier of tremendous new discoveries; and as a philosopher, he is convinced that humanists and artists have joined the scientists to achieve an understanding of man in all his physical, mental and spiritual complexity. Such interchanges might lead, he would hope, to a new and important school of thinkers he would designate as biophilosophers."
Salk describes his "biophilosophy" as the application of a "biological, evolutionary point of view to philosophical, cultural, social and psychological problems." He went into more detail in two of his books, Man's Unfolding, and The Survival of the Wisest. In an interview in 1980, he described his thoughts on the subject, including his feeling that a sharp rise and an expected leveling off in the human population would take place and eventually bring a change in human attitudes:
"I think of biological knowledge as providing useful analogies for understanding human nature. . . People think of biology in terms of such practical matters as drugs, but its contribution to knowledge about living systems and ourselves will in the future be equally important. . . In the past epoch, man was concerned with death, high mortality; his attitudes were antideath, antidisease", he says. "In the future, his attitudes will be expressed in terms of prolife and prohealth. The past was dominated by death control; in the future, birth control will be more important. These changes we're observing are part of a natural order and to be expected from our capacity to adapt. It's much more important to cooperate and collaborate. We are the co-authors with nature of our destiny."
His definition of a "bio-philosopher" is "Someone who draws upon the scriptures of nature, recognizing that we are the product of the process of evolution, and understands that we have become the process itself, through the emergence and evolution of our consciousness, our awareness, our capacity to imagine and anticipate the future, and to choose from among alternatives."
The day after his graduation from medical school, Salk married Donna Lindsay, a master's candidate at the New York College of Social Work. David Oshinsky writes that her father, Elmer Lindsay, "a wealthy Manhattan dentist, viewed Salk as a social inferior, several cuts below Donna's former suitors." Eventually, her father agreed to the marriage on two conditions: first, Salk must wait until he could be listed as an official M.D. on the wedding invitations, and second, he must improve his "rather pedestrian status" by giving himself a middle name."
They had three children: Peter, Darrell, and Jonathan Salk. In 1968, they divorced, and in 1970 Salk married Françoise Gilot, the former mistress of Pablo Picasso.
Jonas Salk died from heart failure at the age of 80 on June 23, 1995 in La Jolla and was buried at El Camino Memorial Park San Diego"
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Editorial Review: When a waiting world learned on April 12, 1955, that Jonas Salk had successfully created a vaccine to prevent poliomyelitis, he became a hero overnight. Born in a New York tenement, humble in manner, Salk had all the makings of a twentieth-century icon-a knight in a white coat. In the wake of his achievement, he received a staggering number of awards and honors; for years his name ranked with Gandhi and Churchill on lists of the most revered people. And yet the one group whose adulation he craved--the scientific community--remained ominously silent. "The worst tragedy that could have befallen me was my success," Salk later said. "I knew right away that I was through-cast out."
In the first complete biography of Jonas Salk, Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs unravels Salk's story to reveal an unconventional scientist and a misunderstood and vulnerable man. Despite his incredible success in developing the polio vaccine, Salk was ostracized by his fellow scientists, who accused him of failing to give proper credit to other researchers and scorned his taste for media attention. Even before success catapulted him into the limelight, Salk was an inscrutable man disliked by many of his peers. Driven by an intense desire to aid mankind, he was initially oblivious and eventually resigned to the personal cost--as well as the costs suffered by his family and friends. And yet Salk remained, in the eyes of the public, an adored hero.
Based on hundreds of personal interviews and unprecedented access to Salk's sealed archives, Jacobs' biography offers the most complete picture of this complicated figure. Salk's story has never been fully told; until now, his role in preventing polio has overshadowed his part in co-developing the first influenza vaccine, his effort to meld the sciences and humanities in the magnificent Salk Institute, and his pioneering work on AIDS. A vivid and intimate portrait, this will become the standard work on the remarkable life of Jonas Salk.
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Editorial Review: Jonas Salk: The Battle Against Polio, will introduce young readers to one of the epic efforts of the 20th century: the campaign to find a polio vaccine. In this book, students are invited to take part in a discussion about the history of vaccines, social policy and medical ethics. Jonas Salk: The Battle Against Polio is more than a biography. It is a window into the relationship between science and society. The book reviews the contributions of vaccine pioneers such as Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner. It discusses the difference between vaccines that use attenuated viruses and those that use killed viruses. The terminology in the book is very accessible. The tone is congenial. Difficult words are underlined and defined in the back of the book. This makes the book suitable for students as young as nine and those who may be in middle school, or even high school. The issues addressed in Jonas Salk: The Battle Against Polio are relevant today. Concern about the safety of vaccines has led many to reject this health intervention. Are safety concerns legitimate? Are vaccines essential to public health? This book will give students the background information to consider these questions intelligently. A brief map study section is included, as are a reading skills challenge and a vocabulary challenge. As with all Rhythm Prism books, the text is accompanied by pictures that add interest and information. With the addition of these pictures, a student is more likely to be engaged than would be the case with a book that has many pages of unbroken text. Jonas Salk: The Battle Against Polio will leave a lasting impression on students and will provide them with a foundation for understanding basic concepts about immunity and modern healthcare issues.
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Editorial Review: Tells the story of Jonas Salk's involvement in the development of a polio vaccine. Written in graphic-novel format.
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Editorial Review: In medical school when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with the disease shortly before assuming the Presidency, Salk was given an impetus to conduct studies on polio. His progress in combating the virus was hindered by the politics of medicine and by a rival researcher determined to discredit his proposed solution. But Salk's perseverance made history-and for more than fifty years his vaccine has saved countless lives, bringing humanity close to eradicating polio throughout the world.
Splendid Solution chronicles Dr. Salk's race against time-and a growing epidemic that reached 57,000 reported cases in the summer of 1952-to achieve an unparalleled medical breakthrough that made him a cultural hero and icon for a whole generation.
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Editorial Review: The title of the book was not lightly chosen. Paraphrasing the Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest, Jonas Salk argues that Man's ability to learn how to act wisely is critically important both for maintaining and improving the quality of human life and for survival on this planet. Jonathan Salk was [at the time of this publication] Director and Fellow of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. The Institute for Biological Studies, which he founded, is dedicated not only to experimental biology, but to relating biological knowledge to philosophical, psychological and social questions. Dr. Salk views biology not only as science but as a basic cultural discipline with unifying potential for the relationship that exists between man and the physical universe, as well as between man and the sciences, arts, and humanities.