Google Doodle honours polio vaccine discoverer Dr Jonas Salk

28 Oct 2014

Dr Jonas Salk

Google has marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr Jonas Salk, an American virologist who discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine, with a new doodle.

The colourful doodle on the Google home page shows children running and playing freely in the street with a sign saying “Thank You Dr Salk!”

The picture indeed tells a thousand words because until 1957 when Salk introduced the vaccine to the public, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem in the US and indeed around the world.

A 1952 polio epidemic struck 58,000 people of which 3,145 died and 21,269 were left in various states of paralysis.

The majority of the epidemic’s victims were children.

A miracle worker

Born to Jewish parents on 28 October 1914, Dr Salk stood out from most of his peers because he chose to go into medical research rather than become a practicing physician.

While based at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Dr Salk assembled a skilled research team and devoted seven years to come up with a polio vaccine.

The field trial involved 20,000 physicians and 220,000 volunteers. Over 1.8m school children across the States took part in the trial.

When news of the vaccine’s success became public in 1955 Dr Salk became a national hero and was hailed a miracle worker.

The drug became publicly available two years later in 1957.

Famously Dr Salk refused to patent the vaccine. When asked who owned the patent he replied: “There is no patent. Can you patent the sun?”

Had the vaccine been patented, it would be worth US$7bn in today’s money, according to Forbes.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years