A World-Changing Moment

Issue Date: 
March 30, 2015

Jonas Salk, left, and Julius Youngner

April 12 marks the 60th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine being declared “safe, effective, and potent.” Jonas Salk led the University of Pittsburgh research team that created the vaccine, a development considered to be among the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. Julius Youngner, Pitt Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, worked beside Salk and made key scientific contributions to the vaccine’s development. The polio epidemic peaked in 1952, afflicting more than 55,000 children in the United States alone. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief with the 1955 declaration of the vaccine’s efficacy.

Notably, too, a Salk polio documentary produced by Pitt professor Carl Kurlander and his students premiered in Europe on March 15, in prime time on the BBC. The film will also air on the Smithsonian Channel on April 12. The award-winning documentary, originally titled The Shot Felt Round the World, had its world premiere at Pitt in 2010, and it continues to engage audiences with its potent message about the power of a vaccine to defeat disease.