Yesterday marked 100 years since the birth of Dr. Jonas Edward Salk, the world-renowned American scientist who developed the first successful polio vaccine. Dr. Salk’s milestone birthday falls just days after World Polio Day and corresponding celebrations.

Born in New York City, Salk believed that each person was responsible for making a difference in the world. He attended City College and graduated from New York University’s School of Medicine. While Salk began his career as a medical researcher working on the development of the first influenza vaccine, his work shifted in 1947 when he was hired as the Director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1955, after various clinical trials, Dr. Salk developed an inactivated injectable polio vaccine that was considered to be effective and safe to distribute to the masses.

Salk’s groundbreaking vaccine led to a dramatic decrease in polio cases in the United States; in the four years before the vaccine became available, an average of 40,000 polio cases per year were reported in the United States. By 1961 the number of reported cases had dropped by 97 percent.

During this period, Dr. Albert Sabin was developing and testing an oral vaccine that had a mixture of live, weakened poliovirus strains of all three types of the polio virus. From 1957 to 1959, Dr. Sabin and his research associates tested the oral vaccine in the U.S.S.R., East Germany and some smaller Soviet Bloc countries. In 1962, the oral vaccine was licensed in the United States and was later used to eradicate polio throughout the world.

Amplifying the legacy of both Dr. Salk and Dr. Sabin, Sabin Vaccine Institute President Dr. Peter Hotez spoke at the 5th Annual Innovations in Healthcare Symposium at New York University. During the symposium, Dr. Hotez highlighted Drs. Salk and Sabin’s scientific contributions to fighting polio, which led to one of the greatest public health accomplishments in history—the near eradication of the incurable paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) disease in the 20th century.  

Polio is a contagious, virally induced disease that attacks the nerve cells and sometimes the central nervous system, often leading to paralysis and even death. The disease has affected millions of lives throughout the world—especially the lives of children under the age of 5.

Dr. Jonas Salk is forever enshrined as a health hero – his work resulting in the protection of millions of lives from the debilitating polio disease.  

Be sure to read more about the Legacy of Dr. Jonas Salk at this link.