Polioforever's Blog

Thomas Francis Jr.


Thomas Francis Jr. MD was a Yale graduate who went to work at the Rockefeller Institute hospital in 1925 where he served as private physician to ‘the old man’ as well as having supervisory duties and a research priority on pneumonia. In 1938, he took the bacteriology chair at NYU where he met Jonas Salk.  He was recruited in 1940 to head the US Army’s Commission on Influenza under the leadership of Stanhope Bayne-Jones and Frances Gilman Blake of the Army Epidemiological Board (AFEB). The closeness of F.G. Blake from Yale and Thomas Francis was described as a “father-son” rapport. Francis commensurately became the Dean of the Univ. of Michigan School of Public Health at its founding where he was joined the next year, in 1942, by Jonas Salk after finishing his internship at Mount Sinai Hospital. Together Francis and Salk worked on an influenza vaccine for the Army, paid for by the March of Dimes.  Jonas Salk was also an AFEB officer inductee as were most of the polio researchers in the 1940s-50s.  http://www.polio.umich.edu/history/francis.html


“Thomas Francis graduated from Yale University School of Medicine where he was a protégé of Dr. Francis Blake, who introduced him to the field of infectious diseases, particularly influenza and pneumonia. This relationship led to Dr. Francis’s being “passed on” to serve under Rufus 1. Cole, chief of the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute in New York. At the Rockefeller, Francis worked with Thomas M. Rivers, William T. Tillett, Oswald T. Avery, Homer T. Smith, Colin MacLeod, Joe Smadel, and Frank Horsfall. His interests were directed to the field of virology and, specifically, to influenza. He is credited with having been the first scientist to isolate the influenza virus in this country, in 1935. His contributions to the field of influenza research included his clarification of the antigenic shifts that characterize this complicated virus. He directed the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, where he gained national prominence when he designed the trials for, and analyzed the results of, the Salk poliomyelitis vaccine. Jonas Salk was one of his protégés.” http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/itsfirst50yrs/section1.1.html

AFEB Roster http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/itsfirst50yrs/membersofthecommissions.htm [see page AFEB]


1946 – President Truman presents Francis with the Medal of Freedom

1947 – Francis receives a Lasker Award http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/1947_c_description.htm

Francis later produced the field trial evaluation report for the Salk IPV and made a public announcement to the press in April of 1955, to great expectation and fanfare.


Immediately afterward, Francis took on another task for the US Government to compile the “A Bomb Survivors Survey“. The Francis Committee was required to follow up on the disorganized data-gathering mandated in 1946 which had produced “no useable materials” until after 1950 despite a professional workforce of over 1,000 personnel. No available data on the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings prior to 1950 is said to exist, however, the making of classified reports was acknowledged.

In 1957, Francis again organized a study in Tecumseh Michigan, to analyze the lifestyle and diet of average Americans with a stated focus on heart disease. The Tecumseh Community Health Study, 1959-1969,  has programs continuing into the present. The Tecumseh Study is very likely a fallout evaluation that was organized with the intention of monitoring fallout-related illnesses — influenza, heart disease and neurological disorders, specialties of Dr. Francis who had the additional benefit of information from his brother Herbert Francis in radiology at **Vanderbilt University where secret human radiation experiments took place. The Health Physics mandate established in 1947 clearly indicates the use of “large population surveys” as a tool for radiation monitoring.

“From 1958 to 1960, Dr. Francis was President of the AFEB.” (history.amedd.army.mil)



In 2005, on the 50th anniversary of the vaccine, Francis was honored by the University of Michigan:

 U Michigan celebrates Drs. Francis and Salk http://www.polio.umich.edu/program/coleman.html
“With the creation of the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health, the University of Michigan is honoring two great figures—two men who literally changed the world by saving and improving countless lives. The first is Thomas Francis Jr., a giant in the fields of epidemiology, virology, and medicine. Tommy Francis was the first American to isolate the human influenza virus, the first to identify its A and B strains, and the first to develop a vaccine against this deadly foe that plagues us still. …It was his inescapable attention to detail, his statistical rigor, and his sheer force of will that carried the polio vaccine field trials to their historic conclusion on this stage exactly 50 years ago this hour….I cannot tell you what an honor and thrill it is for me to be standing at the very spot where Dr. Francis and his protégé, Dr. Jonas Salk, announced their triumph….It is also my privilege to recognize members of the Francis and Salk families who are here for today’s ceremony. Members of the Salk family include his son, Jonathan, his wife, Elizabeth Shepherd, and their sons, Ben and Hugh. Another Salk grandson with us is Jesse Salk.””From the Francis family, we have Dr. Francis’ daughter, Mary Jane Francis, her husband, Dr. Russell Alexander, and her son, William Levitch. Two nephews of Tommy Francis are here: Jack Francis and Joe Francis, along with his wife, Sara. And we have a Francis cousin, Jim Eckelberger, and his wife, Kathleen. Where the Francis family knew Tommy Francis as a father, uncle, and cousin, the world of public health recognized him as a determined epidemiologist. He was an international leader well before the triumph over polio, but the field trials and the dramatic announcement here in Rackham Auditorium sealed his place in history.”
Son-in-law, E. Russell Alexander; CDC, UWashington http://www.seattlepi.com/local/261096_russobit28.html?source=rss
Daughter, Rev. Mary Jane Francis, Episcopal priest  (Seattle) retired, recalls polio: “Before the field trial formally began, all the children of faculty and staff in the School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology were bled and received the vaccine. I remember that we lined up and progressed from [Thomas Francis, Jr.’s] secretary’s office, thru his office and into the small meeting room beyond his office where the conference table became the site of being bled and ‘shot,’ My father [Thomas Francis, Jr.] told me that my blood had high levels of antibodies to Type I polio, which confirmed his suspicion that the severe stiff neck that had me laid out in bed when I was in 7th grade was probably polio. I was fortunate that it didn’t progress beyond a stiff neck, but what a stiff neck it was. It was unbearable to try and move.”…
….” The day of the announcement of the results, I remember, was wild…non-stop busy, with the press all over the place. Edward R. Murrow was in our home and gave my father a watch commemorating the occasion. My brother has now offered that watch to the School of Public Health.” http://www.polio.umich.edu/history/memories.html
University of Michigan School of Public Health – founded 1941 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Michigan_School_of_Public_Health
current directors: Richard Lichtenstein and Barbara Israel http://www.kellogghealthscholars.org/sites/michigan.cfm
After Yale, UMich got the most (WWII) wartime funding for military medical projects


Quotation (Francis on his work): Epidemiology must constantly seek imaginative and ingenious teachers and scholars to create a new genre of medical ecologists who, with both the fine sensitivity of the scientific artist, and the broad perception of the community sculptor, can interpret the interplay of forces which result in disease.”[1]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Francis,_Jr.




**”Vanderbilt faculty have won two Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine. In 1971 Earl Sutherland, Jr., received the prize for his discovery of Cyclic AMP. Stanley Cohen received a Nobel in 1986, as he shared the award with Rita Levi-Montalcini of Italy for their discovery of epidermal growth factor, a hormone that can speed up certain biological processes.”

>>’Displaced scholar’ Levi-Montalcini was the companion and colleague of Renato Delbucco, president and Fellow of the Salk Institute.

“In the early 1940s, Ernest Goodpasture developed the method of culturing vaccines in chick embryos, which allowed the mass production of vaccines to prevent viral diseases worldwide.”

>>Ernest Goodpasture was a close friend of Abraham Flexner. He served on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Atomic Energy Commission http://www.answers.com/topic/goodpasture-ernest-william

“The famous report of Abraham Flexner, published by the Carnegie Foundation in 1910 and afterward credited with revolutionizing medical education in America, singled out Vanderbilt as “the institution to which the responsibility for medical education in Tennessee should just now be left”. Large grants from Andrew Carnegie and his foundation, and from the Rockefeller-financed General Education Board, enabled Vanderbilt to carry out the recommendations of the Flexner Report. (These two philanthropies, with the addition of the Ford Foundation in recent years, have contributed altogether more than $20,000,000 to the School of Medicine since 1911). The full benefits of reorganization were realized in 1925 when the school moved from the old South Campus across town to the main campus, thus integrating instruction in the medical sciences with the rest of the university.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanderbilt_University_School_of_Medicine


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