Historical Perspective: Jonas Salk’s Polio Vaccine

Poliomyelitis (polio) is an extremely infectious disease. The disease was also known as infantile paralysis, merely because of the high infant mortality rate. Jonas Salk was born in New York City in 1914, the son of Jewish immigrants. Salk was considered a first generation college student, since his parents did not have a proper formal education. Jonas Salk’s parents influenced and encouraged him during his youth years to become more involved and successful in academics.

Jonas Salk attended grade school(s) in New York, then attended NYU School of Medicine after “city college” in New York. Years after, Salk researched medicine at the University of Michigan. During this time at University of Michigan, he studied viruses and ways to prevent them. Furthermore, during the 1940’s Salk became highly involved with investigating viral components and how to overcome a virus, like influenza, leading to polio. During this time his investigations were conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was leading the Virus Research Laboratory. Due to the high mortality rate from Polio, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (aka March of Dimes) was searching for doctors/researchers. Salk was becoming more highly recognized by the nation, later sponsored to research polio by the March of Dimes organization.

During 1947, Salk was researching in the Virus Research Lab at University of Pittsburgh when he came to conclusion that he would start with 125 strains of the Polio virus. Salk concluded that there were three basic types of the Poliomyelitis virus. He then figured that a vaccine against Polio must include all three types of the virus in order to effectively kill the Polio virus.  During the early 1950’s Salk believed that if he used the “Killed-Virus” strategy that he used for influenza would also work on his vaccine against polio. However, his strategy required large quantities of the polio virus in order for his testing to become more efficient. After collaboration with John Enders, Salk was given the opportunity to grow the virus via cultures of monkey kidney cells. Salk then used formaldehyde to kill the virus, then injected it into infected monkeys.

During the mid-1950’s Salk and his mentor Thomas Francis conducted field trials for the vaccines efficacy.  These field trials showed a 90% success rate. However, the route which Salk took proved efficacy but insufficiency in mass production. While Salk was developing his vaccine, Sabin was undergoing investigations of the polio virus with a live-virus vaccine. Sabin believed that the oral route would be more efficacious. Sabin then created the oral live-virus vaccine, which was licensed during 1962. Sabin’s live-virus vaccine then stole the show form Salk, and was the preferred vaccine against polio.

In conclusion, Salk was not honored the Nobel Prize for the research he had started. Sabin had won the Nobel Prize, although he depended on Salk. However, Salk founded an institute called the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. In this institution he furthered his investigations on HIV/AIDS, the institution is still active today. Salk made a tremendous impact on the pharmaceutical/medical field in regards to vaccine developmental information that is still being used today for the future of our vaccines.

Work Cited

By That Time Salk Was Convinced That the Same. “Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin.” Chemical Heritage Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

“NMAH | Polio: Two Vaccines.” NMAH | Polio: Two Vaccines. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

 “Salk Produces Polio Vaccine 1952.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.










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