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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

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The Epidemic That Wasn't (Part 2)

Posted November 05, 2009 4:01 PM by Steve Melito

"The virus that caused the greatest world epidemic of influenza in modern history – the pandemic of 1918-1919 – may have returned." Those words, written by Harold Schmeck, appeared in pages of the New York Times not in the fall of 2009, but during the winter of 1976. A month later, on March 24 of that bicentennial year, President Gerald R. Ford asked Congress to provide immediate funding "for the production of sufficient vaccine to inoculate every man, woman, and child in the United States."

Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series. Click here if you missed Part 1.

The day after President Ford's announcement, Dr. Harry Meyer met with representatives of pharmaceutical companies and personnel from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Meyer, director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Bureau of Biologics (BoB), learned from drug manufacturers that, in the words of one participant, "you couldn't possibly have 200 million doses by fall".

There's Something Wrong with the Vaccine

Doubts about its ability to produce enough swine flu vaccine wasn't the pharmaceutical industry's only concern. During the summer of 1976, vaccine manufacturers delivered an "ultimatum" to the CDC, demanding protection against claims of adverse reactions. As then-CDC Director Dr. David J. Sencer later recalled, this demand sent an "unintended, unmistakable message" to the American pubic that "there's something wrong with the vaccine". Faced with an epidemic, however, the federal government agreed to industry's indemnification demands.

Soon after the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP) began delivering flu vaccine to state health departments, another crisis of confidence occurred. On August 2, 1976, a mysterious pneumonia-like illness sickened over 250 veterans at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. Although CDC researchers later determined that the illness, Legionnaire's Disease, was caused by bacteria from a hotel cooling tower, the media used the episode to hype fears of an early-season flu epidemic.

The subsequent deaths of three elderly people who had recently received the swine flu vaccine then caused the pendulum of public panic to swing back towards fears about the vaccine itself. Ultimately, venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite scolded the media for sensationalism and shoddy reporting.

This time, fears about the swine flu vaccine were unfounded – or were they?

Editor's Note: Part 3 of this series will run soon.

Resources:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125571271634890319.html

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol12no01/05-1007.htm

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103642563

http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2009/04/the-swine-flu-epidemic-that-never-really-was-1976-swine-flu-outbreak.html

http://www.salon.com/env/feature/2009/04/28/1976_swine_flu/

http://www.amazon.com/epidemic-that-never-was-Policy-making/dp/0394711475

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Guru
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#1

Re: The Epidemic That Wasn't (Part 2)

11/05/2009 4:25 PM

There's an interesting article in 'Laboratory News' about this flu pandemic and its history.... relating to H1N1 bird flu and so called swine flu....

Read article here

John.

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#2

Re: The Epidemic That Wasn't (Part 2)

11/09/2009 5:51 AM

Have you ever asked the pharmaceutical industry? I would say that many things are happening in such a great influenza epidemic like swine or bird flu.

The virus itself was, at least up till now, not the thing that multiplied itself in the millions and billions,... it was the cash in the coffers of the industry.

Here in germany the vacine for swine flue is available now, but over 50% of the population is not wanting to use it (me too).

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