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Jonas Salk, Grave and Tombstone, El Camino Memorial Park Cemetery, San Diego, California, photo

Jonas Salk, Grave and Tombstone, El Camino Memorial Park Cemetery, San Diego, California, photo, polio vaccine

The tombstone and grave site of Jonas Salk, the developer of one of the first successful vaccines for polio. Salk was born on October 28, 1914 in New York City, New York. Beginning in 1948, Salk led a team of researchers in the study of the polio virus and in the pursuit of a vaccine to prevent infection by the virus. The research was funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now known as the March of Dimes Foundation. After a seven year research effort, field trials to test the effectiveness of the vaccine began in 1954. Beginning with his own wife and children, more than 1,800,000 volunteers were given the vaccine. On April 12, 1955, the announcement was made that the testing had proven successful. The announcement led to the greatest outbreak of celebration across the United States that had been seen since the end of World War II. Salk instantly became a national hero and celebrity; a status he was personally uncomfortable with.

Salk sought no personal profit from the vaccine. When asked who owned the patent for the vaccine, Salk responded, "Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" Had the vaccine been successfully patented, it would have resulted in enormous wealth for the owner.

Today, only older adults have any memory of the polio outbreaks that tended to peak during the summer months of each year. By the early 1950's, polio killed more persons each year in the United States than any other contagious disease. During 1952, there were more than 57,000 reported cases in the United States alone with more than 3,000 deaths and another 21,000 persons with some degree of paralysis with some persons being severely paralyzed. So great was the fear of contracting polio, many swimming pools were closed and many avoided coming into contact with large groups of people in public places. Many parents attempted to keep their children indoors at all times.

The introduction of the polio vaccine successfully brought the annual outbreaks to an end. In 1994, all of North, South and Central America were declared to be polio free. In 2016, there were only 42 known cases of polio worldwide, all concentrated within four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Laos.

Salk continued his research efforts through the remainder of his life. His last efforts were in the pursuit of an effective vaccine for AIDS. Jonas Salk died on June 23, 1995 in the La Jolla area of San Diego, at the age of 80 of heart failure. He is buried in El Camino Memorial Park Cemetery, San Diego, California.

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