For 60 years after the first major polio epidemic occurred near Rutland, Vermont in 1894, this highly contagious disease terrorized the entire US. Striking children disproportionately, polio attacked the central nervous system, causing muscle deterioration, paralysis and even death. But in 1953, virologist Jonas Salk has developed the world’s first effective and safe polio vaccine. Here are more interesting facts about Jonas Salk.
1. He Is Not a Really a Fan Of Patents.
The day when the vaccine was declared effective, safe and potent, Edward R. Morrow, a legendary CBS newsman, asked Salk on an interview about who owns its patent. Salk answered, “Well, the people, I would say.” He added, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Later, lawyers for the foundation that funded the development of the vaccine investigated the possibility of patenting, but did not pursue it, partly because of Salk’s reluctance.
2. He Tested The Vaccine On Himself And His Family.
After he successfully experimented with the vaccine on thousands of monkeys, Salk then started the risky step of testing it on humans, including himself, his wife and his 3 sons. He then announced the success of the tests through national radio on the 26th of March 1953.
3. He Challenged Prevailing Scientific Orthodoxy In Developing The Vaccine.
While scientists generally believed that an effective vaccine could only be developed with a live virus, Salk developed his with a “killed” virus by growing samples of it and then deactivating them with formaldehyde, preventing them to reproduce. The vaccine works by being injected into the bloodstream and then tricking the immune system into producing protective antibodies, without having to introduce a weakened form of the virus into healthy individuals. Because of his methodologies, Salk was thought of by other researchers as using a dangerous approach.
4. His Clinical Trial For The Vaccine Was The Biggest Public Health Experiment In The History Of America.
On the 26th of April 1954, 6-year-old Randy Kerr was given the Salk vaccine, and by the end of June in the same year, he was joined by an unprecedented 1.8 million people, including thousands of schoolchildren, to become polio pioneers. This was the first time researchers used then-standard double-blind method, where the patient and the one who is administering the inoculation do not know if they are using a vaccine or a placebo. Though no one was sure that the vaccine is completely safe, there was seen no shortage of volunteers.
5. He Became An Institution.
Salk founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1960, and it almost immediately became a powerhouse for research when it opened in 1963. The institute employed Nobel-winning scientists, such as DNA pioneer Francis Crick and Robert W. Holley. Today, the Salk Institute is still one of the prime centers of biological research and is also lauded for its architecture, which was designed by celebrated architect Louis Kahn.
Aside from those listed above, did you know that he married Picasso’s muse, French artist Francoise Gilot? Without a doubt, the life of Jonas Salk is definitely interesting!