Swine flu debacle of 1976 is recalled
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Los Angeles Times
Posted: June 29th, 2020
Warren D. Ward, 48, was in high school when the swine flu threat of 1976 swept the U.S. A relative died in the 1918 flu pandemic, and the 1976 illness was feared to be a direct descendant of the deadly virus. The government wanted everyone to get vaccinated, Ward said. But the epidemic never really broke out. It was a threat that never materialized. The episode began in February 1976, when an Army recruit at Ft. Dix, N.J., fell ill and died from a swine flu virus thought to be similar to the 1918 strain. Several other soldiers at the base also became ill. The CDC ... called on President Ford and Congress to begin a mass inoculation. The $137-million program began in early October, but within days reports emerged that the vaccine appeared to increase the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes temporary paralysis but can be fatal. More than 40 million Americans ... received the swine flu vaccine before the program was halted in December after 10 weeks. More than 500 people are thought to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine; 25 died. Only about 200 cases of swine flu and one death were ultimately reported. No one completely understands the causes of Guillain-Barre, but the condition can develop after a bout with infection or following surgery or vaccination. The federal government paid millions in damages. The pandemic, which some experts estimated at the time could infect 50 million to 60 million Americans, never unfolded.
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