Post-WWII, 1950’s America was aware of the dangers in the world. The atom bomb displayed its destructive power and it’s design had slipped across the iron curtain. But the most terrifying, immediate threat to American might have been polio.
By 1952, almost 60,000 cases had been reported in the US with over 3,000 dead and another 20,000 suffering from paralysis. In a time when the United States population was half what it is today these numbers were much more shocking than the mild Ebola outbreak we are currently experiencing.
Today google honors Dr. Jonas Salk’s 100 year birthday.
Dr. Jonas Salk is the reason we no longer fear polio and why we can allow its effects to fall into the pages of history.
By the time the polio outbreak had become prevalent in the US, Dr. Salk’s vaccine was already ready for field testing. The ensuing medical trial was the largest ever done at the time consisting of over 180,000 schoolchildren test subjects and another 300,000 medical workers and volunteers. It was a monumental collaborative accomplishment in an era without cellphones or the internet.
When the trial was finished, Jonas Salk had a vaccine that would go on to save the lives of millions of people not just in America but around the world. If patented, this discovery would have made Dr. Salk todays equivalent of 7 billion dollars.
But Jonas Salk thought of this vaccine as a natural gift and not for his own personal gain, an idea not as prevalent in todays capitalist society.
When asked if he would patent the vaccine, the good doctor said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the Sun?”