Salk Legacy

Jonas Salk: Ending Polio’s Reign of Terror

At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, polio was killing or paralyzing more than a half-million people worldwide each year, especially children and young adults. The “lucky” survived to walk on crutches. Others were so paralyzed they could no longer breathe on their own. Iron lungs, the mechanical ventilators that sustained them, symbolized polio’s reign of terror.

In 1947, the University of Pittsburgh recruited Jonas Salk—an expert in influenza whose flu vaccine is still in use today—to develop a virus program at Pitt. For more than seven years, his team worked tirelessly to develop an effective killed-virus vaccine.

The efforts of Pitt’s polio research team culminated in the largest national controlled field trial in history. At the trial’s successful conclusion, the federal government approved the vaccine for the public on April 12, 1955, an action that Newsweek called “a summit moment in history.”

— From Pitt’s Historic Impact

In addition to his pioneering research with vaccines, Salk also studied and wrote about humanity’s role in the evolutionary scheme.

Pitt’s Iron Lung

ironLungsWard_AP

In the same year that Salk began work on a polio vaccine, the new University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health was established in response to the needs of industrial Pittsburgh. The first class of thirty-four students matriculated in 1950, studying in temporary quarters in a wing of the Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital—the same building as Salk’s laboratory. Once Salk's vaccine was shown to be protective against polio and cases in the U.S.A. plummeted, iron lungs became historical relics. 

Just inside the doors from Fifth Avenue, our iron lung is a generous gift from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Located in La Jolla, California, and widely considered one of the top biological research centers in the world, the institute was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk. The iron lung stands as a symbol of the countless lives saved by public health initiatives like vaccination programs. And vaccines are just the beginning. Things like motor vehicle safety laws, tobacco use restrictions, family planning resources, and clean air and water standards keep people alive. Our students, alumni, and faculty are part of these life-saving initiatives each day. 

Salk Symposia at Pitt Public Health

Pitt Public Health periodically hosts a symposium in Jonas Salk’s honor. Topics are chosen from among his varied interests based on continuing importance to public health today.

image

During WWII, Getting the Flu Vaccine was Patriotic 

During WWII, Getting the Flu Vaccine was Patriotic

US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT – IDM’s Peter Salk struggles to make sense of COVID denialism. “It’s not mind-blowing — it’s mind-bending and heartbreaking to see this,” he says. “How many people are dying, and how many are suffering loss in their families, because of not being tuned in to the reality of ... (10/28/2021)
image

Dean Lichtveld exemplifies the power of prevention 

Dean Lichtveld exemplifies the power of prevention

After receiving her COVID-19 vaccine at an interprofessional clinic on campus, Dean Maureen Lichtveld celebrated by posing with a life-sized picture of Jonas Salk – a symbol of the importance of vaccines and one of the core principles of public health: prevention. Lichtveld shares her experience in... (04/13/2021)
image

ON THIS DAY: February 23, 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk begins first mass polio vaccination in Pittsburgh 

ON THIS DAY: February 23, 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk begins first mass polio vaccination in Pittsburgh

WPXI NEWS  — A group of children rolled up their sleeves for their place in history on Feb. 23, 1954, at a mass inoculation held at Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh. The new polio vaccine they received was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk at the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsbu... (02/23/2021)
image

Amanpour & Salk: Vaccine lessons from history (video) 

Amanpour & Salk: Vaccine lessons from history (video)

CNN — Christiane Amanpour discusses with IDM's Peter Salk the 97% drop in polio prevalence within a few years of initial vaccine adoption. In 1953, Dr. Peter Salk was one of the first to receive a polio vaccine—from none other than his father, Jonas Salk. They go on to discuss herd immunity and vac... (01/13/2021)
image

Paralyzed 

Paralyzed

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE - In a 3500-word and photo retrospective, journalist Laura Malt Schneiderman looks back at the last massive vaccine rollout—for polio—which started in Pittsburgh. (01/12/2021)
image

From polio to the COVID vaccine, IDM's Peter Salk sees great progress 

From polio to the COVID vaccine, IDM's Peter Salk sees great progress

NPR - IDM's Peter Salk was just 9 when he got one of the first polio vaccine shots in 1953 at the family home outside Pittsburgh. Today, he has been hugely impressed by the development of a vaccine in less than a year. Dr. Salk is a bit concerned about the number of people who are reluctant, or out... (12/30/2020)


More on Salk Legacy