PATENTING THE SUN: Polio and the Salk Vaccine by Jane S. Smith

PATENTING THE SUN: Polio and the Salk Vaccine

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Who owned the patent (on the polio vaccine), Ed Murrow asked Jonas Salk on TV. ""Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"" Salk replied: And therein lies a tale, told with admirable style, wit, and intelligence by Smith, a visiting scholar at Northwestern's Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research. Smith has the rare ability to re-create a scene--bickerings at National Foundation meetings, rancor among the rivals, an impassioned press at the conference releasing the first results of the Salk vaccine trials--with wonderful verisimilitude. She will awaken in an older generation memories of the terrible summers of polio epidemics when children were forbidden to swim in public pools, when iron lungs were everywhere, when the lights would go in the movie theaters for March of Dimes collections. And she takes us back even further, to FDR and Basil O'Connor, the brash law partner and lifelong advisor who took Roosevelt's losing investment in Warms Springs and built the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was Foundation money that funded the vaccine development and the trials; and it was O'Connor who promised to buy the first year's output of the drug companies even if the vaccine was a bust--all told $16 million, a tidy sum in 1954. The sheer logistics of the testing of the vaccine, which required three successive inoculations, the bloods collected from subsamples, the data collection and information fed to and from 150,000 volunteers, is a story in itself. But at the heart of the book is the personal story of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Smith adroitly lets both men and their colleagues speak for themselves, so that one emerges with some empathy for Salk, none for Sabin. Mostly, one comes away with a sense of wonder that it all came out right in the end--and thankful to Smith for doing such a grand job of reporting how.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow