Dr. Jonas Salk Lesson for Kids: Biography, Facts & Inventions

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Dr. Jonas Salk was a doctor who created a vaccine to keep people from catching a disease called polio. Come learn about Dr. Salk, how he kept people from getting sick and some other interesting facts about him.

Dr. Jonas Salk's Early Life

You probably aren't happy about going to the doctor to get a vaccine. The nurse gets the needle ready, you feel a little pinch and then you're done. That vaccine you just got didn't hurt much and will keep you from getting awful diseases that can make you really sick.

Dr. Jonas Salk was a doctor who figured out how to make a vaccine that kept people from getting a disease called paralytic polio. Paralytic polio (pronounced pear-uh-LIH-tick POE-lee-oh) is a disease that is caused by a virus, can leave people unable to move and sometimes permanently damages parts of their body. It can even cause death.

Jonas Salk was born in New York in 1914 to poor immigrant parents and was a good student as he got older. But growing up, he didn't even want to be a doctor. Though you might not know what you want to be when you grow up, when Jonas was 12 he wanted to be a lawyer.

Dr. Salk
Dr. Salk

But when he was about to graduate from college in 1934, he decided to go to medical school instead of law school. In medical school, he learned how to make vaccines, which are substances put into the body that help it fight off diseases. After graduating, he worked to create an effective flu vaccine. But that wasn't the only important vaccine he created.

Dr. Salk Fights Polio

In the late 1800s and again in the early 1900s, big outbreaks of paralytic polio happened in the United States and a lot of people got sick or died. Doctors were trying to figure out how to stop the dangerous disease but weren't having much luck.

In the late 1940s, an organization now called the March of Dimes gave Dr. Salk money to study the polio virus and figure out how to stop people from catching it. He thought that if he killed the polio virus with a chemical and then put it into a vaccine, the body would develop defenses against it, like a germ-fighting army, without making people sick.

Dr. Salk in the lab
Dr. Salk in the lab

But just like your friends don't always think you're right, most scientists didn't think Dr. Salk was right, either. However, their opinions didn't change his mind and he tested his idea.

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