University of Michigan
Advancing Global Public Health

"If one is to use public funds he must
accept a responsibility to the public."

—Thomas Francis, Jr., MD

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A physician, virologist, and epidemiologist, Thomas Francis Jr.—T.F. or Tommy to his friends—was the first American to isolate human flu virus, through his work at the Rockefeller Institute.

By 1938, he had become a professor of bacteriology and chair of the department of the New York University College of Medicine, where he remained until 1941.

That year, Francis received an invitation from Henry F. Vaughan to join the newly established School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, where he built a virus laboratory and a Department of Epidemiology that quickly focused on a broad range of infectious diseases. When Jonas Salk came to the University of Michigan in 1941 to pursue postgraduate work in virology, it was Francis who taught him the methodology of vaccine development. Salk’s work at Michigan ultimately led to his polio vaccine.

By the late 1940s, Francis had extended his studies of viral disease to include studies of enteric viruses, particularly the polio virus. In 1953, he was asked to design, supervise, and evaluate the field trials of the polio vaccine developed by his former protegé, Jonas Salk. Approximately 1.8 million children from 217 areas of the United States, Canada, and Finland took part in the trial. In scope and magnitude, it was unprecedented. On April 12, 1955, Francis announced to an expectant world that the Salk vaccine was “safe, effective, and potent.”

Read more: "The Story of Thomas Francis, Jr." »