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Timescope - Questions from Our Cultural History

Question: Who invented the first vaccine for polio?

Answer: Doctor Jonas Salk


Jonas Salk was born in New York City in 1914, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. While in medical school in 1938, he was invited to spend a year researching influenza to try to develop a vaccine against the flu. He was successful.

He then turned his efforts to the crippling disease most feared by parents of the 1940's, polio. In 1952, he inocculated volunteers including himself, his wife and three sons with a killed virus vaccine. All made antibodies against the disease and none of them became ill.

In 1952, 57,628 cases of polio were reported in the United States, the highest level to date. People were very concerned about the disease. Nationwide testing of the vaccine was conducted and the vaccine was accepted. In 1955 a mass vaccination of schoolchildren was completed and the number of polio cases dropped dramatically.