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April 26: Salk’s Vaccine

Lawrence Bush
April 26, 2010

220px-Salk_March_of_Dimes_posterDr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine began to be mass-tested on this date in 1954. This “Francis Field Trial,” led by Thomas Francis, was the largest medical experiment in history, eventually involving 1.8 million children in 44 states from Maine to California. A 1954 Gallup poll showed that more Americans knew about the polio field trials than could give the full name of the U.S. president. The crippling disease was widely feared; the 1952 epidemic, the worst in the America’s history, had involved nearly 58,000 cases, 3,145 deaths, and 21,269 cases of paralysis, mostly among children. The positive results of the field trial were announced April 12, 1955, and the day had all the energy of a national holiday. Asked in a televised interview who owned the patent to the polio vaccine, Salk, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York, said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
“As a child I was not interested in science. I was merely interested in things human, the human side of nature, if you like, and I continue to be interested in that. That’s what motivates me.”— Jonas Salk

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.