All - City Thanksgiving
Peter Salk, son of polio vaccine creator Jonas Salk, speaks Tuesday to
Stockton Rotarians about efforts to eradicate the disease and other
medical advances during the 38th annual All City Thanksgiving Luncheon
at First Baptist Church.
CRAIG SANDERS/The Record
His father's footsteps: Polio vaccine pioneer's son continues work
By Lori Gilbert
Record Staff Writer
November 23, 2011 12:00 AM
Dr. Peter Salk, one of three sons of Jonas Salk, who developed the first vaccination against polio, not only has embraced it but is happily traveling down the road of science and discovery that was forged by his father.
Speaking in front of 250 of Stockton's approximately 400 Rotarians at the clubs' 38th annual All City Thanksgiving Luncheon on Tuesday at First Baptist Church, Salk not only shared the story of his father's discovery but also of his dream for the future.
Jonas Salk lived until 1995, seven years into the global initiative to eradicate polio, a mission supported by Rotary International. Salk's vaccine had been introduced 40 years earlier, and he'd long since moved on with other work.
"Very soon after the vaccine was found effective and was being used, his initial thought was to create a new kind of an institute that would allow people to do fundamental research and handle a broader discussion," Peter Salk said.
Jonas Salk founded the Salk Institute for biological studies in San Diego in 1960, and in addition to becoming a renowned laboratory studying molecular biology, stem cell research, genetics, microbiology, plant biology, immunology and infectious diseases, he wanted it to be something more.
"The part that never came to fruition is the dream my father had ... that in addition to research and biology and the cause and prevention and cure of disease was understanding the factors and circumstances conducive to the fulfillment of one's biological potential," Peter Salk said.
For all of his work as a researching doctor - discovering with his mentor, Thomas Francis, the first flu vaccination, creating the first polio vaccine and spending his final years on developing a vaccine against HIV and AIDS - Jonas Salk was more than a man of science, his son said.
He was a humanitarian whose concerns included the population explosion and the consequences of that enormous growth on a finite planet.
He saw society move from anti-disease to pro-health, from death control to birth control, from external constraints to self-control, from competition for food sources to cooperation and from selfishness to mutualism.
"The question is whether we are going to be able to use that knowledge wisely," Peter Salk said.
The vice president and scientific director of the Jonas Salk Foundation is doing his part by sharing not only the story of his father's scientific breakthroughs but also of the man who cared about humanity.
A 66-minute documentary titled "The Shot Felt 'Round the World" is being released. Peter Salk served as an adviser on the film, which was expanded from a 19-minute film originally made by students at the University of Pittsburgh, where the polio vaccine was developed.
"I want to keep the awareness alive and let everyone know what took place to create that polio vaccine," Salk said.
He was 11 at the time and remembers the period well. He, his brothers and mother all were guinea pigs, as were 1.8 million others. His father became an instant celebrity when approval of the vaccine was announced on April 12, 1955, 10 years to the day after polio sufferer President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died.
Peter Salk said the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the forerunner of the March of Dimes that funded the research, and the public at large played major roles in the vaccine's development, too.
His father, though, was no less a hero for the work he and his team of researchers did.
"I'm putting some attention on my father and his legacy in an attempt to not only preserve the historical information, not only to bring it out what was done, but also to deal with the unfinished business of my father. He wanted to see the world transformed. He wanted the world to be a place in which humanity not only survives, but one in which it thrives.
"That," he told the Rotarians, "is something common to the dreams and aspirations of everyone here."
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Visit her blog at recordnet.com/lensblog.