The University Record, May 24 , 1999

Commemorative polio vaccine stamp to be unveiled here May 26

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

When the U.S. Postal Service asked the American public to select what they considered the most important science and technology advancement of the 1950s, they chose the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk.

The vaccine, which was tested at the School of Public Health by Salk‘s mentor, Thomas Francis, revolutionized the battle against the deadly polio virus.

Few scientific advances have had the impact the Salk vaccine had, especially considering its effect on the health of children in the 1950s. After being inoculated, most children successfully fought off a disease that had killed and paralyzed children throughout the world.

On May 26, the U.S. Postal Service will honor the fight against polio with a commemorative postage stamp, “Polio Vaccine Developed,” one of 15 stamps that are part of the 1950s edition of the Postal Service‘s “Celebrate the Century” commemorative program. “Celebrate the Century” recognizes the most significant people, places, events and trends of each decade of the 20th century.

The polio stamp will be presented at a free, public event at 1:30 p.m. May 26 at Rackham Auditorium where the original announcement was made April 12, 1955.

Speakers at the event include Hunein F. Maassab, professor of public health, who also was mentored by Francis.

“I‘d like to thank the U.S. Postal Service for honoring Jonas Salk with this postage stamp. Forty-four years ago at Rackham Auditorium, Dr. Francis and Dr. Salk announced to the world before the national and international press that the vaccine had conquered paralytic poliomyelitis. Dr. Francis‘ efforts marked the beginning of vaccine development at the School of Public Health which, today, continues its commitment to research in the prevention and control of viral diseases,” Maassab says.

Salk was a research scientist with Francis at the School of Public Health before joining the University of Pittsburgh in 1947, where he developed the polio vaccine. Salk found a mentor and a research collaborator in Francis, professor of public health, who conducted the clinical trials for the polio vaccine in 1954. The vaccine was proven to be 60 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing paralytic polio, the beginning of the end of the deadly disease. In 1961, Albert Sabin developed a live attenuated (weakened) oral polio vaccine capable of stopping person-to-person transmission of polio.

Francis was the chair of the Department of Epidemiology in 1941-69. His research focused on the study of the causes of infectious disease, especially pneumonia, influenza and polio.

The School of Public Health continues its tradition of vaccine research today in the area of influenza. Maassab, who received his doctorate in public health from the School in 1955, and who, like Salk, worked with Francis on developing an influenza vaccine, has developed a nasal spray influenza vaccine using a live attenuated virus. The vaccine, which will be marketed by Aviron under the name FluMist, is in the final stages of FDA approval. It is expected to be available in 2000 or 2001.