Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburghers line up for vaccinations in the Cathedral of Learning
Commons Room on February 26, 1957.
Photo courtesy March of Dimes

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Salk Polio Vaccine University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine over a three-day period in April. Activities included a commemorative reception on April 10 and a scientific symposium on April 11–12. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of these historical events.

In some ways, the fear of polio was as terrifying as the disease itself. When the epidemic in the United States peaked in 1952, polio had struck nearly 58,000 people—mainly children and young adults. The most critically ill were confined to a mechanical ventilator known as an iron lung, robbed of their ability to breathe on their own. Others escaped on crutches, crippled but not paralyzed. Panic was pandemic. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the terror that polio caused at the time.

The initial breakthrough that led to the eventual eradication of polio throughout most of the world is credited to Dr. Jonas Salk and his team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who developed the first polio vaccine. In April 1955, when the results of an unprecedented nationwide clinical trial were announced and the vaccine was approved for widespread public use, Newsweek reported: “It was a summit moment in history. None before it in the field of medicine ever received such dramatic affirmation, instant public comprehension, and official blessing.” (For more information about the history of polio and the development of the vaccine, visit the School of Pharmacy's interactive display The Shot Heard Round the World.)

It is the 50th anniversary of that milestone—and the people who made it happen—that we remember and celebrate this year.

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