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One hundred years since the birth of Jonah Salk, the doctor who defeated the polio virus

Two years before the administration of the mass vaccine with the Salk formulation that contained a killed polio virus, the number of new cases of the disease in the USA was 45 thousand, immediately after the administration of the vaccine to the entire population the number dropped to less than a thousand

David Ben-Gurion presents a certificate of appreciation to Prof. Yona Salk, developer of the Salk formula against polio. Jerusalem, 1959. Photo: Fritz Cohen, L.A.M
David Ben-Gurion presents a certificate of appreciation to Prof. Yona Salk, developer of the Salk formula against polio. Jerusalem, 1959. Photo: Fritz Cohen, L.A.M

When Jonah Salk came up with the idea of ​​establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Research, he had a vision of establishing a vibrant intellectual community dedicated to promoting the kind of scientific achievements that had made him an international figure just five years earlier.

Jonah Edward Salk was born in New York on October 28, 1914 to Dora and Daniel Salk, poor Jews who emigrated from Russia. Studied at New York College and later received a Doctor of Medicine degree from New York University. Salk came to the city of La Jolla in California following a career in clinical virology research. After receiving the degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD) at the New York University School of Medicine in 1939, he was a physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

He then joined his mentor, Dr. Thomas Francis as a research fellow at the University of Michigan. There he worked on the development of a flu vaccine at the request of the US military. In 1947 he was appointed director of the virus research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In Pittsburgh, Salk began to develop the methods that eventually led him to the polio vaccine. He was already impressed with the idea of ​​vaccines that if the body is actually exposed to a harmless version of the disease virus, it will produce the antibodies that will reject or kill the dangerous form of the virus, if exposed to it in the future. Contrary to the Pasteurian example of those times, Salk believed that a preventive vaccine could be given without contamination using a live virus just like those used against smallpox and rabies. In the development of the influenza virus, he saw how it is possible to protect without infection by injecting a killed virus.
Salk's research caught the attention of Basil O'Connor, president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (famous for the March of Dimes Fund to Fight Birth Defects). The foundation pledged to finance Salk's efforts to develop a killed virus vaccine against the terror of that time - polio.

Salk killed polio viruses with formaldehyde, but he caused them minimal damage so that they could stimulate the body to produce the necessary immune response. His work was made possible through the several achievements of Prof. John Anders from Harvard. Anders and his team discovered how to grow polio viruses in test tubes. This step was essential to obtain the amount of pure virus required for the development and production of vaccines that ultimately led to Salk's formulation.

The injection of the vaccine developed by Salk was first tried on monkeys and then on patients at the Watson Institute who were already paralyzed as a result of polio. The compound was then given to healthy volunteers, including Salk, the lab staff, his wife and their children. The volunteers developed antibodies to the polio vaccine and none of them suffered a negative reaction to the vaccine.

Finally, in 1954, an experiment began on a national scale on one million children aged 6-9 who are now known as the polio pioneers. Half of them received the virus and half received placebo injections. As for about a third of the children who lived in areas where the vaccine was not available, the level of polio in this age group was observed and evaluated. On April 12, 1955, the results were announced: the vaccine is safe and effective. In the two years before the vaccine became widely available, the number of polio cases in the US reached over 45. By 1962 the number had dropped to 910. Salk never patented the vaccine, nor did he earn a penny for the discovery. He preferred to see the vaccine distributed as quickly and widely as possible.

Given the horror of polio in the first half of the 20th century, the vaccine's success in 1955 made Salk a global hero, and he spent the late 1960s perfecting the vaccine and establishing the scientific principles behind it. By XNUMX, Salk was ready to move on. Salk's dream was to establish an independent research center where a community of researchers interested in various aspects of biology - the study of life - would operate, who could unite and follow their curiosity.

At the personal request of San Diego Mayor Charles Dale, a polio survivor, the institute was established in this city. Dale provided Salek with an area of ​​128 dunams in La Hoya, a little west of the University of California campus that was established at that time - in the area overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The proposal was approved in a referendum among the city's residents. With initial support from the March of Pennies Fund, the first laboratories were established, designed by architect Louis Kahan.

Yona Salk himself researched a variety of serious diseases at the institute, including multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases, cancer immunology, improving the production and quality of killed polio viruses and developing an AIDS vaccine. Now the institute employs 61 faculty members and a scientific team numbering 850 people, who work in laboratories that research everything from cancer, through diabetes and birth defects to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, AIDS and plant biology.

Salk died at the age of 80 on June 23, 1994. A plaque at the institute quotes Salk's vision "Hope to live the dream. The imagination and courage of those who dare can turn dreams into reality."


Based on his biography page on the Salk Institute website

More on the subject on the science website

29 תגובות

  1. You write that he died on June 23, 1994. He fell on the XNUMXth of Tammuz XNUMX
    In 'Wikipedia' I read: June 23, 1995, XNUMX Besivan XNUMX

    Maybe you will find out what the truth is?

  2. Miracles, you keep fishing for facts without putting them together into a coherent picture.
    The weakened (Sabin's) vaccine replaced Salk's vaccine completely in the USA in 61 (or 62). Stop using the Salk vaccine and switch to the weakened vaccine. This was the case for the next 35 years in the USA (and also in Israel, more or less).
    You have no good explanation why such a (supposedly) successful vaccine was replaced after 5-6 years and why pro-vaccine experts, despite the data supposedly showing that the vaccine was successful, claim that it never prevented outbreaks in the world.
    The fact that you keep quoting to me the familiar version of "Salk vaccine saved humanity from polio" etc. etc. does not explain the two facts I brought. It also does not explain why Salk never received a Nobel Prize or was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the USA (Sabin was elected and many other good people who were partners in the fight against polio. Salk was not).
    Why don't you try to give reasonable answers to my claims?

  3. Ronan…
    According to Wikipedia:
    1) 1953 35,000 polio cases in the USA
    2) 1961 161 cases
    3) 1961 approval for the use of the weakened component

    The 2 vaccines are complementary. Therefore, both are still in use today.

    Apart from expressing disdain for a person to whom many owe their lives, quoting parts of sentences and talking nonsense in general - you said nothing.

  4. Miracles -
    We're talking about Salk and the polio epidemic of the 50s. As is known, the Salk vaccine was replaced about 6 years after its use (in the USA) with the weakened vaccine.
    If the vaccine was as good as you claim - why was it replaced? If the vaccine is responsible for the (supposedly) huge decrease in polio cases in the 50s - why do Dr. Stein and others (avid vaccine supporters) claim that it never stopped an outbreak anywhere in the world?

    Hint: Do you know the difference in the way the Salk vaccine provides protection against infection compared to the way the weakened vaccine protects against infection?

  5. Ronen
    There is a detailed explanation on Wikipedia. Write:
    In regions without wild poliovirus, inactivated polio vaccine is the vaccine of choice. In regions with a higher incidence of polio, and thus a different relative risk between efficacy and reversion of the vaccine to a virulent form, live vaccine is still used.

    From this I understand that most of the world uses the killed vaccine. Doesn't he accept that too?

  6. Nissim - "After that he says that the killed vaccine was replaced with a weakened one - which is simply not true"
    are you sure that's not true?

  7. Note that Ronan attacks a claim that was not made in the article - "In the wider world, they have never stopped an outbreak with the killed vaccine".
    After that he says that the killed vaccine was replaced with a weakened one - which is simply not true.

    I wonder what he sells...

  8. We will agree with Yoel and I will also add that it is very difficult to teach such people. Therefore, anyone who talks too much with them is to his detriment

  9. Miracles, there's a good chance that Ronan is the type of person who doesn't really know what they're talking about. They read an article six months ago and turned it into sacred truth. They will never explain themselves. They will tell you to go and study, that you do not understand the subject and that you are contradicting yourself. That exactly describes them.

    It is unlikely that Ronan is a world name when it comes to the polio vaccine. If this is the case it does not add too much prestige to it. Just an arrogant person who likes to tower over people with less knowledge.

    No matter what is true. You don't learn from such people.

  10. Ronen
    What to study? Are you full of hot air? You gave a quote that contradicts what you say. You brought contempt on a man who saved tens of thousands. You have provided no source for your rant.

    What exactly can be learned from you?

  11. Ronen
    You are not focused 🙂 Dr. Stein openly (!!!) supports the inactivated vaccine.
    Again - do you deny writing in the article or not? Are the numbers here real?

  12. So it says in the article, so what? Do you think that Dr. Michal Stein and Prof. Tiberio Schwartz do not know these so-called facts?
    they know.
    Instead of wasting space here, start looking for material on the net about the polio vaccine.

  13. Ronen
    It is written in the article - a decrease from 45,000 to 1,000. The CDC writes that the effectiveness of the vaccine is 99%. I can't figure out what's wrong with that.

  14. Nissim, since you are apparently not familiar with the topic of polio, I will interpret for you the words of Dr. Michal Stein (said last June during a discussion on the topic of the polio virus that was discovered in the south of Israel):
    Salk's (killed) polio vaccine never stopped outbreaks (so neither did the plagues of the 50s).
    The vaccine does have a certain effectiveness in protecting the individual and its side effects are less severe than those of the weakened vaccine (which is why Dr. Stein recommends not using the weakened vaccine which is known to cause cases of paralysis and caused several cases of paralysis during the vaccination campaign a year ago).

    I hope now you understand her words a little better. But, there are no shortcuts and in order to understand the subject in depth - you will have to study it.

    Bottom line:
    The Salk vaccine is mostly a myth. It did not stop the polio outbreaks in the 50s.
    Therefore, there is not much point in celebrating Salk's birthday.

  15. Ronen
    Please - read slowly and aloud what Dr. Stein wrote:
    "I think we really need to try and vaccinate with the inactivated vaccine"
    "I think it would be a grave mistake to vaccinate with a live attenuated vaccine"

    Are you just quoting what's convenient for you? interesting….

    It was announced at the time that there is a chance of getting polio if you take a weakened vaccine without first getting the killed vaccine.
    On the other hand - there is, perhaps, one case in the world of a person who fell ill as a result of the killed vaccine.

    So why exactly are you against the dead vaccine?

  16. Look for a report written by Prof. Tiberio Schwartz that reviewed the polio disease for generations in Israel. He also points out that the Salk vaccine did not stop polio because its effectiveness was problematic.

  17. What is the problem with the quote I brought? What was omitted in it that changes anything from what I wrote?

    The Salk vaccine did not stop the polio epidemic, as people think. Dr. Stein, of course, did not invent anything. Among those who are deeply familiar with the issue of the polio vaccine - the truth is known.
    For example, if you look at the graphs of the incidence of polio in Israel, you will see that the year after the introduction of the vaccine (1958, the vaccine was introduced in 1957) there was a big jump in the number of polio cases even though almost all children were vaccinated.
    I repeat - it was not just that the Salk vaccine was replaced with the weakened vaccine. Do not replace a winning vaccine. The scientists know the truth (see Michal Stein and there are others who have written).

  18. Ronen
    And if you're quoting a person then, please, don't just pull out the part of the sentence that fits your position. Here is the full quote:

    "Michal Stein:
    Another thing I wanted to say, this is really the issue of choosing the vaccine, if they have to vaccinate on a wider scale. I think that we really need to try and vaccinate with the killed vaccine, even though in the wider world an outbreak has never been stopped with the killed vaccine. I think it would be a grave mistake to vaccinate with a live attenuated vaccine."

    How exactly does this relate to the article?

  19. Ronen
    No one said the vaccine is perfect. But, he saved a lot of people. When you stop vaccinating, the disease returns, according to Syria.
    What exactly are you trying to say?

  20. If the killed vaccine was so good, why was it replaced with a weakened one in 1962?
    Why did Salk never receive a Nobel Prize or was admitted to the National Academy of Sciences in the USA?
    Why does Dr. Stein, as mentioned a passionate supporter of vaccines, say that he did not stop an outbreak (=epidemic) anywhere in the world?
    Those who read about the vaccine in depth understand the answers to these questions. The truth is that the story presented in this article is far from the whole truth about the Salk vaccine.

  21. Ronen
    Wikipedia has a description of the meaning of the killed vaccine in the USA. And in addition, there is a certain risk in giving a weakened vaccine without the killed vaccine.
    Why did you ask the question? There is no sane doctor who is not an enthusiastic supporter of vaccines….

  22. What does the respected writer think of this quote:
    "The wider world has never stopped an outbreak with the killed vaccine." [Salk vaccine]

    Dr. Michal Stein, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases and a big supporter of vaccines, said these things at the Knesset committee's discussion on polio that took place in June 2013.

  23. Thank you very much for the information you provided.
    I just wanted to comment on a slight spelling error in the sentence: "Now the institute employs 61 faculty members and a scientific team numbering 850 people, working in laboratories that research everything from cancer, through diabetes and birth defects to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, AIDS and plant biology." The word "easy" should be replaced with "apply"

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