Dr. Salk: A Brief Bibliography
Poliomyelitis: The Last Childhood Plague
Living in Fear: America in the Polio Years
Roosevelt: A Presidential Campaign
March of Dimes: America Fights Back
Sister Kenny: Miracle Worker
You are on Dr. Salk
Polio Today: Nearing the end of the battle
In Conclusion

Dr. Jonas Salk
Photo courtesy of
the San Diego
Daily Tribune

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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 fell off.

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 work—both the influenza vaccine and the Salk vaccine—as 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...

Bob Greene
review of
Patenting the Sun:
Polio and the Salk Vaccine

page 1 | page 2 | page 3 | page 4

Living in Fear
Roosevelt | March of Dimes |Sister Kenny | Dr. Salk
Polio Today | In Conclusion
Bibliography | Links


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 1999).

4.   "Jonas Salk, M.D.: Developer of Polio Vaccine."  The American Academy of Achievement.   1999.   http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/sal0bio-1.    (1 May 1999)