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In 1961, an oral vaccine made of live, attenuated virus was released.
Called OPV for Oral Polio Vaccine or the Sabin vaccine after it's developer Albert
Sabin, the vaccine provides longer term immunity but carries the real risk that the
weakened virus might revert to its wild, virulent form. Although by then, the
incidence of polio had dropped from 135 per million in 1955 to only 26 per million, and
the incidence of paralytic polio had fallen by 90%. Although there had been no cases
of vaccine-induced polio since May of 1955, the Sabin vaccine was quickly adopted in the
United States. Almost immediately, the use of the Salk vaccine in the United States
In 1963, with funding from the March of Dimes, Salk founded the Jonas Salk
Institute for Biological Studies. The Institute continues to research the molecular
cause of diseases like cancer and AIDS. Salk intended to spend his life there,
researching other diseases, but it took him ten years to deal with the publicity that he
received following the vaccine trials. Meanwhile the science of biomedicine moved
on, and he no longer understood the tools of his science.1
His family was also adversely affected by that fame. His wife Donna
was never comfortable with her role in his spotlight. They were divorced in
1968. In 1970, Salk married painter Françoise Gilot.2
In addition to his devotion to medical progress, Salk had a passion for
peace. In fact, he considered all of scientific workboth the influenza vaccine
and the Salk vaccineas secondary to his work in promoting peace. He spent much
of his later years traveling the globe, meeting with world leaders, calling for an end to
war, which he called "the cancer of the world."3
He wrote four books about philosophy and peace, often collaborating with one or more
of his sons, who were also medical researchers.4 Salk was
honoured with dozens of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest
honour which the President of the United States can bestow upon a civilian.
He spent his last days searching for a vaccine against HIV. Salk
died in La Jolla, California, on 23 July 1995. He was 80.
The last case of poliomyelitis in the United States caused by wild
poliovirus occurred in 1979.
In an age when the term 'hero' is used to apply to everyone
from rock singer to soap opera stars, Dr. Jonas Salk may be the most genuine hero we have.
None of us should ever forget why this is so...
Patenting the Sun:
Polio and the Salk Vaccine
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1. Smith, Jane S. Patenting the Sun: Polio and the
Salk Vaccine. New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
1990. p. 376.
2. idem. p. 377.
3. "Dr. Jonas Salk." Women's
International Center. 15 November 1997. http://www.wic.org/bio/jsalk.htm. (1 May
4. "Jonas Salk, M.D.: Developer of Polio
Vaccine." The American Academy of Achievement. 1999.
(1 May 1999)