Today is the birthday of one of my heroes, Jonas Salk.
He’s one of the most important people you’ve probably never heard of.
Born in New York City to a family of modest means, he became the first person to discover and develop an effective polio vaccine. His discovery is one of the most important public health innovations in history and is responsible for saving millions of lives.
To give you some context for just how far we’ve come:
While there isn’t accurate worldwide data from the period, in 1952 there was a horrendous outbreak of polio in the US. There were an estimated 58,000 domestic cases of polio in that year alone. (To give you some context, there have been an estimated 10,141 global cases of Ebola so far this year.)
The outbreak caused major panic and sent the scientific community into overdrive. Using grant money from the US government, between 1948 and 1955, Salk developed and tested the vaccine in the largest vaccination trial to date. His efforts saw 1.8 million children vaccinated before the discovery was confirmed and made public.
As news of its success spread, an obvious question arose: would he patent the vaccine?
His now famous response was: could you patent the sun?
Because he forfeited profiting from the discovery, polio vaccination efforts scaled up quickly. By 1979, the disease had been successfully eradicated in this US and an unprecedented effort was underway to vaccinate the entire global community.
Now, Salk’s dream of a polio free world is closer than ever to becoming a reality. We are 99% of the way to eradicating the disease worldwide.
Today on his birthday, let’s take a stand and keep his legacy alive. Sign the petition in the “take action” box to call on the world community to keep prioritizing polio vaccination efforts.