Dr. Jonas Salk: Creator of the Polio Vaccine

Dr. Jonas Salk was an American physician and medical researcher and one of the leading scientists of the twentieth century. He was the creator of the first safe and effective polio vaccine. Let’s have a look at his life and achievements.

Timeline: 1914-1995

Place of Study:

  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • City College of New York, New York City.
  • New York University, New York

Contributions to the field of Medicine

  • In 1942, Salk went to the University of Michigan on a research fellowship to develop an influenza vaccine.
  • He was able to reconnect with Thomas Francis, Jr., the Head of the Epidemiology Department at Michigan’s new School of Public Health. Thomas was the one who taught him the methodology of vaccine development.
  • In 1947, Salk was appointed as the director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. With the help of funds from a National Foundation, he began to develop the techniques that would lead to a vaccine to eliminate the paralytic poliomyelitis, which was considered to be one of the most frightening diseases of the time. 
  • He was successful in developing the vaccine which has benefited the entire world. 
  • Founding the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 1963 was Salk’s second triumph. 
  • He was aided with a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and support from the March of Dimes.
  • Salk spent his last years searching for a vaccine against AIDS.

About the Polio Vaccine

Contrary to popular belief, Salk’s vaccine composed of “killed” poliovirus. It could help in immunisation without the risk of infecting people. Salk administered the vaccine to volunteers, including himself, his wife and his children. They were successful in this attempt and no adverse reactions were reported. In 1954 the vaccine was administered to one million children as a part of national testing. In 1955, the vaccine was declared safe and effective. 


Salk never patented the vaccine. He never wanted to earn money from his discovery. His main goal was to make the polio vaccine accessible to one and all.


Salk was not just a researcher but also a writer. He wrote on several philosophical topics. Some of his works include Man Unfolding (1972) and The Survival of the Wisest (1973), which he co-wrote with his son.

Famous Quote: ​

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

Salk’s discovery has saved the lives of countless people. His efforts and achievements have earned him an everlasting place in the field of medicine. His name has been etched in history as the man who stopped polio.


1. Jonas Salk – Polio Vaccine, Discovery & Quotes – Biography Available at https://www.biography.com/scientist/jonas-salk Accessed on 7 July 2021
2. Salk Institute for Biological Studies – History of Salk – About Jonas Salk Available at https://www.salk.edu/about/history-of-salk/jonas-salk/ Accessed on 7 July 2021

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