A Vaccine of Heroism - Jonas Salk

by Neil Sahai from San Diego, California in United States

144124Jonas SalkSAS Scandinavian Airlines, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons     “We are in need of heroes more than ever. Collectively and individually we continue to be a people in search of sages; anxious and eager to find people worthy of our love and loyalty” (Harper). In an age where people look up to celebrities and those with fame, the true heroes are left behind, forgotten like distant dreams in the changing landscape of the world. As a result, we choose wrong, immoral heroes and the consequences are disastrous: “In the absence of positive heroes, a society will choose others as it did in Nazi Germany and Serbia. Choosing the wrong kind of heroes sets in motion a negative energy more powerful than nuclear fission” (Harper). Due to the power and significance a hero has in society, we must tread lightly on this path to find heroes which we should commend. Who should we admire and why? One of the many characteristics of a hero is courage. A person should have the courage and audacity to look danger in the eye and not let that stop them from achieving their goals. Admiration can be found in a firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save a small child or a doctor who takes the risk of going into an active war zone to treat soldiers or a teenager who lies about her age to give a transplant. Each of these people demonstrates values that are critical and necessary for heroes to possess: selflessness, bravery, courage, and dedication. In my opinion, a hero must also be able to give up things that they love, cherish, and need for the betterment of others, in addition to working for humanity without a care in the world about themselves, greatly diminishing their own quality of life. A hero must additionally be passionate or dedicated to the things that they do, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is for their idea to achieve fruition. They must be willing to work hard and make sacrifices, in addition to being trailblazers in their respective fields. They revolutionize society for the better, changing the way the world operates today.

     Who could have figured that a boy of Russian-Polish descent from New York City would grow up to become the most talented and influential virologists of all time: Dr. Jonas Salk. He was born on October 28, 1914. A talented and gifted child, his parents encouraged him to work hard and succeed. Salk listened and put his mind to good use and in 1933, he earned a degree from NYU school of medicine. In 1942, Salk went to the University of Michigan and developed a formalin-killed vaccine for influenza, which was effective against types A and B. Later on, he became the assistant professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh where he led several projects. Soon after, he received funding from the National Institute of Infantile Paralysis to develop a vaccine for Polio. Salk began the development of the vaccine in 1947 and continued to work on it wholeheartedly for the next five years. After three years of clinical trials, the antidote was deemed effective on April 12th, 1955 and Salk became a national hero. Then in 1963, he created the Salk Institute and dedicated the rest of his life to finding vaccines, cures, and developing research on diseases such as AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Cancer. A hero is someone who works with the utmost dedication on whatever they do, making it their first priority. They persevere through obstacles, trying to make their dreams to become a reality. They are also selfless, ready to give up the things that they might need or love for the greater good, no matter how important it is as they are concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own. Because of his passion and perseverance in finding a vaccine for polio and his selfless drive to make the world a better place and not to take benefits, Dr. Jonas Salk is the definition of a hero and serves as an inspiration for all he sacrificed for the benefit of the world and the following generations.

     Salk’s endless passion for fighting diseases, no matter what the sacrifice makes him the epitome of a hero. An example of his passion is when he founded the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California. When it opened, Salk was revitalized in his quest to rid the world of disease and started working long hours: “Salk became its director and devoted himself to the study of multiple sclerosis and cancer. He remained a driven man, thinking nothing of working sixteen to eighteen hours a day, six days a week.”(Jonas Salk, Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present) Salk’s dedication and passion are evident as he was so passionate that he created an institute to finding cures for diseases, moreover, he began working long hours, over sixteen hours a day, six days a week trying to make the world a better place, even at an age where people are retired. Like a true hero, Salk gave up time with loved ones, sleep, and multiple other activities for the good of the world. He was willing to sacrifice his time for the benefit of others, and those whom he did not even know. Not many of us would be willing to give up things that we love, but Salk did just that, and it's from his sacrifice that he is a true hero. Dr. Salk’s passion is not only shown by his commitment to finding cures, but it is also demonstrated in his capability to surrender his life for the well-being of others: “Salk administered the vaccine to volunteers who had not had polio, including himself, his lab scientist, his wife, and their children” (Jonas Salk, Notable Scientists from 1900 to present). Jonas Salk’s passion apparent here as he was willing to give up his life to better humanity. Facing insufficient volunteers to try the vaccine, Salk injected the vaccine into himself potentially killing himself. There was a higher chance that the vaccine would backfire, and it could cripple him, possibly slowing his research, leaving his children fatherless, and many more people may have perished to the virus. But being passionate to alleviate the epidemic as fast as possible, he injected himself which cut off development time as a result, saving many people. Dr. Jonas Salk, an inspiration to people all around the world, worked passionately to banish the iron lung and save the world from the horrors of disease.

136228Dr. Jonas Salk Thank youMarch of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons     Dr. Salk’s ability to give up personal and professional relations for the benefit of others and his capacity to relinquish financial gain for humanity makes him nothing less than a hero. An example of his selflessness is shown when he chooses not to profit off of the successful vaccine by not patenting it and protesting after it was named after him: “To Salk's credit, he refused to patent his vaccine and did not want the vaccine named for him. It was his altruistic wish that the vaccine be used to eliminate polio on a global level.” (Petersen, Jonas Salk). This demonstrates the trait of selflessness as Dr. Salk chose not to patent it, missing out on a potential 7 billion dollars from royalties, and influence in the medical community around the world so that people would have access to the antidote quickly, and so it could be distributed more effectively. Furthermore, by missing out on 7 billion dollars without the patent, Salk sacrificed financial stability for the immediate relief of others, something which all people desire for themselves and their families. He could have also used that as research money, and he would never have to worry about funding again. Salk also gave up being its namesake, missing out on recognition and why his work is largely unnoticed and him, under-recognized today. A true hero is someone who prioritizes other people's well being over themselves, just like Salk. Salk not only relinquished financial gain and reputation around the world, but he also forfeited relations for his decisions regarding the vaccine: “Anxious to avoid sensationalized versions of his work, Salk agreed to comment on the results …. Some of his fellow scientists accused him of being little more than a publicity hound. Salk, who claimed that he had been motivated only by the highest principles was deeply hurt” (Jonas Salk, Notable Scientists from 1900 to Present). “Salk and his chief backer, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, were fairly lonely in their corner. But Salk failed to let his position in the scientific wilderness dissuade him and he continued, undeterred, with his research” (Jonas Salk, Notable Scientists from 1900 to Present). These 2 quotes portray Salk as selfless as he gave up relations for the development of a killed vaccine, which many people thought was wrong, but he didn't care. All Salk saw was people suffering and was motivated to make their lives better. Not many of us would be inclined to give up most of our acquaintances over the benefiting other people, but Salk saw what polio was doing to people and gave up his social life. He felt as if it was his duty and his moral conscience urged at it, and so he did. Dr. Salk is a hero for all of us as he was selfless; he lost relationships and money for the greater good: to help out humanity.

     Dr. Jonas Salk is the epitome of passion and selflessness. This is shown by his steel resolve to create an effective vaccine working long hours for multiple days, and his willingness to give up money and be isolated for altruistic decisions. Dr. Salk is an inspiration for all because of all he gave up and unrelenting drive to succeed. By being determined in finding a cure for polio, Dr. Salk spent countless hours toiling away, trying to make the world a better place. Motivated by good intentions he found a vaccine which gave everyone a fair shot at life. This dedication and support behind what he believed in no matter what it was, gave him the ability to succeed and rise to heroic status. Salk was also selfless; he simply helped others as he loved humanity, and was willing to suffer for it. Instead of profiting off of his vaccine, he refused to, saying it should be distributed around the world quickly and effectively. But that is not all he forfeited, as result of his decisions, he also lost countless friends for the choice to create a vaccine which was controversial all for the sake of others. Dr. Salk inspires me personally because as a normally functioning person, my life could have been very different if it wasn’t for Salk. I would be physically limited, and I would not be able to achieve my full potential. Salk also effectively saved the world from one of the worst epidemics ever seen, and without him, society would be so much more different, with most of the population possibly being handicapped. Within in my own life, I will strive to embody the traits that he so effortlessly possesses: courage, passion, humility, and selflessness. He is a hero to me as he helped those with weak immune systems, like myself, be able to rise up and live life to the fullest. It is also because of him that I want to become a Doctor and provide free treatment to poor and needy just like he did so that no person dies in vain when there are treatment options that can cure them. I also want to help wounded soldiers by treating them and helping them with their problems so that they can get back on their feet and still live a fulfilling life after the horrors of war. “Real heroes strive for the imperishable trophies. Their rules and goals are different. They live and work in the world, but they embrace the eternal values of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness” (Harper). This is exactly what Salk did, striving for improvement in the quality of life for all, trying to change our world. It’s those people like Dr. Jonas Salk, those diamonds in the rough who are future shining stars, those who work hard, come from nothing and make an attempt to change the world on a global scale that truly deserves the prestigious honor of being called a hero. As Dr. Jonas Salk once said, “There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.

Works Cited 

Harper, Charles. “How We Choose Our Heroes.” My Hero, My Hero,

"Jonas Salk." Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present, edited by Brigham Narins, Gale, 2008. Biography In Context, Accessed 7 Jan. 2019.

"Jonas Salk Quotes." BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 18 January 2019.

Petersen, Jennifer B. “Jonas Salk.” Jonas Salk, Aug. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,                                                           direct=true&db=b6h&AN=19551090&site=brc-live.

Page created on 2/14/2019 3:52:05 AM

Last edited 4/26/2021 11:15:09 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

The Salk Institute's Website - Provides an in-depth and comprehensive view of the Scientific Research being done there, shows what the Salk Institute has done and is doing in the Scientific Community
History of Polio - Shows the history of the disease and shows the steps taken to eradicate it. Also shows current attempts at vaccination around the world, and it includes some unknown facts about Salk