The existence of a polio vaccine is considered by today’s health care community one of the most significant and beneficial health care measures to be discovered in the post-World War II era in America, with credit for the discovery of the methods through which safe and effective polio vaccines could be produced for purposes of safeguarding the health of children being ascribed to the figure of Jonas Edward Salk. Salk was a graduate of the medical school at NYU who deviated from the common career path taken by his fellow students in forgoing the career of a physician and going instead into medical research. By launching a search aimed at the discovery of a polio vaccine, he was addressing a particularly serious aspect of the health care threats that faced America up to about the middle of the twentieth century. A particularly worrying aspect of the existence of polio in the United States was that the rates of severity with which its outbreaks occurred had been seen to be gradually increasing in seriousness. Another reason why the search for a polio vaccine could take such an urgent form was in the tendency for the victims of the disease to be children. As a kind of globally known face of the health care issues raised by the disease, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was known during his term as the world’s most famous polio victim, who had founded a medical institution for the sole purpose of locating a polio vaccine.
Jonas Salk had been working on medical research related to flu when he was approached by the director of research at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The director of research offered Salk the chance to lead the arm of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis aimed at combating polio, which was the organization created by President Roosevelt, which opportunity Salk quickly accepted. By 1952, his new task of working on a polio vaccine had taken on a particular urgency, with that year seeing an epidemic which stood as the worst yet to occur in the United States. The epidemic took over three thousands lives and resulted in around twenty-one thousand cases of paralysis, making the availability of polio vaccines seem more important than ever before against the existence of almost fifty-eight thousand cases. The search for polio vaccines that Salk was organizing required the involvement of twenty thousand physicians and public health officers. It also attracted the involvement of two-hundred and twenty thousand volunteers and employees of educational organizations numbering sixty-four thousand, and elicited the involvement of close to two million children. The polio vaccines were thus tested “in the field,” as spread out over a very large and inclusive area. It was announced in April 1955 that Salk’s efforts had uncovered a method through which polio vaccines might be produced. The news that polio vaccines would now be available to stem the tide against the extremely damaging ailment was soon spread over the world, and Salk declined to patent the polio vaccine.