J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 75:1552 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2003.028530
  • Historical note

Salk and Sabin: poliomyelitis immunisation

  1. J M S Pearce
  1. 304 Beverley Road, Anlaby, East Yorkshire HU10 7BG, UK;

      The first decade of the 20th century was marked by a wave of poliomyelitis research. Treatment and prevention were, however, of little avail and epidemics continued, with a large toll of residual disabilities.


      In 1935 Maurice Brodie had attempted to modify the virus by exposing it to formaldehyde. This formalin inactivated “vaccine” was first tried with 20 monkeys, then with 3000 children. The results were poor and Brodie’s vaccine was never used again.1 John Kollmer used live attenuated virus that also proved ineffective, and was blamed for causing many cases of polio, some fatal.

      Attempts to develop a polio vaccine progressed. In 1955, Salk2 developed the inactivated poliovirus vaccine; thus began widespread immunisation. This was followed in 1960 by a live, attenuated oral vaccine developed by Sabin.3 The effect was impressive. From 28 000 reported cases of polio in 1955, in 1956, one year after immunisation, there were only 15 000 cases.

      Salk’s laboratory in Pittsburgh was established in 1948 …