After the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920, where over 500 million people were infected and 20 million died, the scientific community began to devote themselves to finding a vaccination to prevent it from occurring again. It would take a quarter of the century before the immunization was tested on a large scale and finally licensed in 1945, becoming available for public use.
The eventual success of discovering the influenza vaccination lies with a group of scientists and physicians, teamed up with the United States Military, led by Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr, MD, a physician, virologist, and epidemiologist. Because of his work and dedication in studying the influenza virus, Dr. Francis Jr, (1900-1969) would be called by Time Magazine in 1944, "The number one US influenza man". President Harry Truman awarded Dr. Francis the US Medal of Freedom in 1946, for his work in developing the "flu" vaccination.
In 1925, Dr. Francis began working at New York City's Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research helping in developing vaccines for bacterial pneumonia. In the early 1930's, he began to devote his interests in studying the highly contagious viral disease, influenza. In 1935, a major development occurred when he became the first American to isolate the influenza virus by studying ferrets. In 1937, he initiated a study with his first attempt to vaccinate humans against influenza by a virus grown in minced chicken embryo's cultures.
Doctor Thomas Francis was appointed Director of the Commission on Influenza of the U.S. Army Epidemiological Board in 1941. The United State Military had a huge interest in an influenza vaccine. Half of its soldiers, who died in Europe during the WWI, were not by enemy's bullets, but by the influenza virus. His first year's budget for the Commission was $159,600.
Also, that same year, he joined the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. Francis built a virus laboratory and a Department of Epidemiology that quickly focused on a broad range of infectious diseases. That same year, Jonas Salk came to the University of Michigan, where Dr. Francis mentored him in the methodology of vaccine development. Salk was recruited by Francis to take part in the "War against Influenza" and was a key part in developing the vaccination. Dr Salk's work and research at Michigan led to his successful development of a safe polio vaccine in 1954.
During the early 1940's, Dr's Francis and Salk conducted a series of daring experiments at the University of Michigan, involving "volunteers" from mental institutions, prisons and conscientious objectors. The experiments, which would be considered highly unethical today, were very helpful in developing the vaccine expeditiously.
June 1943, the Commission on Influenza received permission to conduct a large scale vaccine trial using the eluate from chicken embryos. Over the next six months, approximately 12,000 Army personnel were tested. The results demonstrated a strong correlation that the vaccine was successful in preventing influenza. Because of this, the program was approved and acquisition of 10,000,000 doses to be used by military began. In 1945, the influenza immunization was made available to the public.
Due to the time, hard work, leadership and dedication by Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr, a safe, highly efficient vaccine was developed. This vaccine has prevented many from suffering illness and even death over the last 60 years.