The End of Polio Worldwide: Reflecting on the Global Adoption of Dr. Jonas Salk’s Polio Vaccine
By Kevin Kimberlin
The World Health Organization recently concluded that the wild polio virus could be eradicated within 12 months as the health community prepares for the global adoption of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. This 60 year battle, from 1955 to 2015, has been a humanitarian cause without parallel. The hope began with the late Dr. Salk, and now his vaccine may soon end polio forever.
Today, 155 countries are completing a concerted switch from the three-strain (trivalent) to a two-strain (bivalent) polio vaccine during a 2-week time period that ended May 1, 2016. Since the Type 2 wild polio virus has been eradicated, the final step will be achieved when Types 1 and 3 disappear. The Salk vaccine will prevent future outbreaks. Bill Gates has called the end of polio “a chance at one of the greatest successes of mankind.”
Dr. Salk virtually eliminated polio in the U.S. with his noninfectious vaccine. After it was declared safe and effective in 1955, Dr. Salk found himself “ranked with Gandhi and Churchill on lists of the world’s most revered people,” according to author Charlotte Jacobs in her biography, “Jonas Salk—A Life.”
Subsequently however, a less expensive, infectious vaccine was brought to market. On rare occasions this attenuated, live virus vaccine mutates and spreads the disease it was designed to prevent. In 2015, the infectious vaccine accounted for 30% of the cases of polio recorded worldwide (32 of 106 total cases), according to “Polio This Week” published by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Dr. Salk fought this injustice for the rest of his life: giving lectures, writing papers, and presenting safety data to health authorities. Working with Jonas, focused though he was on his AIDS vaccine, he never stopped thinking about his fight against polio.
Dr. Salk’s safety data, combined with the intense interest in his HIV vaccine work, prompted a group of polio survivors who had been crippled by the infectious vaccine to lobby in Washington, D.C. against its use. Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the National Immunization Program at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, saw the disfigurement caused by the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and became a staunch advocate of the safer Salk approach.
Dr. Orenstein’s support continues, as noted by his recent co-authored article in The New England Journal of Medicine (February 11, 2016) in which he states “…it is of paramount importance to discontinue the use of OPV after polio eradication has been certified.” Dr. Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) will replace it because, as Orenstein points out, “IPV provides immunity against all three polioviruses without generating any infectious vaccine-associated polioviruses.” Once that happens, polio will be eradicated thanks to the efforts of over a million volunteers and donors.
I was fortunate to work closely with Dr. Salk through a research company that we founded together, and today I celebrate this monumental achievement. Victory will demonstrate that people from every country can set aside differences and join together to conquer a common foe.
About Kevin Kimberlin
Kevin Kimberlin is the Chairman of Spencer Trask & Co., an advanced technology development company. He has distinguished himself as a founder or initial funder of seminal companies in mobile telephony, the internet, and healthcare transformation. Pioneering the field of immune therapy, Mr. Kimberlin and Jonas Salk developed an AIDS vaccine and the technical foundation for the first FDA-approved cancer vaccine.
The Immune Response Corporation
In 1986 Kimberlin started his company with renowned polio hero, Dr. Jonas Salk. As the founder of The Immune Response Corporation, Kimberlin drove the strategy, recruited the management and scientific teams, and brought together its major corporate partner to advance Dr. Salk’s groundbreaking immunotherapeutic vaccines.
Immune Response cemented Kimberlin’s reputation as a high impact entrepreneur when it became the best performing U.S. stock in 1991. The Phase III trial on 2,527 HIV-infected patients vaccine (the largest immunotherapy trial conducted to that point) unfortunately failed to meet its clinical end point, a devastating personal loss to both Kimberlin and Salk. Yet they derived some comfort by exchanging the rights to the company’s B-cell lymphoma patents for stock in a startup backed by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. This discovery was a key element in the first FDA-approved cancer vaccine.
Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs, M.D.
“They were going to change the world.”
An exclusive interview with Kevin Kimberlin inside.
“Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs’ second biography, JONAS SALK,chronicles the life of one of America’s most beloved and decorated scientific heroes. His polio vaccine all but eradicated a crippling disease from the face of the earth, and the scientific community never forgave him. This first full account of Salk’s life, was released by Oxford University Press in May of 2015, reveals the complex man behind the controversial legend.”
“Salk remains the people’s scientist, the man who connected the wonders of the laboratory to the suffering of humankind — the man who saw beyond the microscope.”
— The New York Times
“She paints a picture of a sensitive, genuinely kind idealist who pursued what he thought was right with gentle but unrelenting tenacity.”
— The Economist