Jonas Salk’s Vision by Glen Wexler

TEDMED 2015: Art, inspired by vaccination

A blank canvas, Unformed clay. An empty petri dish.

Jonas Salk’s Vision by Glen Wexler
Jonas Salk’s Vision by Glen Wexler ©2014 Glen Wexler Studio, Inc.

When the artwork connects with an audience, it can elicit deep emotions—triggering actions, because we act when we feel and care about something,” said McNab. “In the case of vaccines, 1 in 5 children in the world still do not receive the vaccines they need. We need people to connect with those communities and take action so that every child can be reached.”

Unexpected connections between medicine and art

But artists are not the sole recipients of inspiration. Each of us looks to the outside world, intentionally or not, and finds moments of clarity that help us move toward a goal. GSK decided to sponsor making this special exhibit possible at TEDMED, which brings together a global audience from across disciplines to bridge the gap between science and the public.

Flowers-The Beauty of Vaccines by Vik Muniz
Flowers-The Beauty of Vaccines by Vik Muniz ©2014 Vik Muniz

Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines, thought the exhibit was a bold move and one worthy of support. “We have a whole team dedicated to explaining complex science to the outside world. This kind of art is another kind of conversation and it hits home for people.”

Dr. Len Friedland, a member of that team and a paediatrician, was reminded of two volunteer trips to Bangladesh in this photograph by GMB Akash. “These images illustrate the determination and bravery of the mothers and the health care workers to provide something so special, against so many odds.” Dr. Friedland appreciates that persistence, because great science is not, on its own, enough. “You have to have passion and will to see science through.”

Len and two other GSK Vaccines colleagues joined New York Times Health reporter Pam Belluck, artist Catherine Dowson, and Christine McNab at TEDMED to delve deeper into the unusual connections between their day jobs and art. 

Norman Begg, Vice President of Global Clinical Research and Development picked Rupture. A War is Won and Lost for reminding him of the whooping cough and measles outbreaks he witnessed as a British doctor “this century” -- when vaccination rates in the UK suffered due to “due to misconceptions and falsehood.” Maarten Leyssen, Medical Director of Vaccines, chose Lang Lang’s Afternoon of a Faun, because it’s about the unrealized potential of a dancer who refused polio vaccination.

For more information on how you can get involved please visit Artofsavingalife.com. To view Christine McNab’s segment please visit Tedmed.com.