Swine Flu '76, Complete With Alarming PSA - NBC New York

Swine Flu '76, Complete With Alarming PSA

Vaccine proved far deadlier than the outbreak it was meant to contain



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    A vintage PSA from 1976 warns about the dangers of the swine flu and tells everyone to get immunized.

    Thirty-three years ago, U.S. health officials launched a massive effort to fend off a swine flu outbreak by encouraging -- and some would say scaring – every person into getting a vaccine.

    But there were a few glitches.  The swine flu epidemic never materialized and the vaccine itself was found to have harmful side-effects.

    There are some serious lessons to be learned from the swine flu outbreak of 1976 and some very clear parallels to our current swine flu concerns. But that doesn’t make the government’s '76 public service announcements any less funny -- or scary. 

    The 1976 swine flu affair is sometimes called a fiasco, as the government undertook an unprecedented effort to stop the virus by creating and manufacturing a vaccine to head off an epidemic that never came about.

    It all began in February of that year, when a few cases of severe swine flu broke out among young military recruits in Fort Dix, N.J., killing one soldier.

    Feds feared a massive outbreak and launched the vaccination campaign. With the help of those PSAs, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention achieved unprecedented vaccination numbers and immunized more than 40 million people between October and December.

    But in the end, the shot was linked to 500 cases of a paralyzing nerve disease and also linked to 25 deaths. The swine flu killed just one of the 230 people it infected. The head of the CDC at the time was forced to resign over the debacle.

    Much of the fear in 1976 came from the belief that the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed as many as 50 million people worldwide was swine flu. It is now known to have been from an avian strain.

    Currently, lawmakers are walking a fine line between action and restraint. As of now, there are no plans for any scary PSAs.