Officials Are Urged to Heed Lessons of 1976 Flu Outbreak





As U.S. health officials consider rolling out a plan to inoculate the nation against swine flu in the next several months, they are haunted by the events that unfolded the last time the government stepped in to head off a surprise flu outbreak.

In the fall of 1976, dozens of Americans died within 48 hours of receiving a swine flu vaccine. To allay the public fears that threatened to unravel the mass inoculation program, President Gerald Ford rolled up his shirtsleeve and received his shot in front of television cameras.

More than 40 million others followed his lead. But two months later, the campaign was abruptly stopped: More deaths had followed, and hundreds were reporting serious side effects, including paralysis.

Already, medical experts and vaccine watchdog groups are urging the Obama administration to apply the lessons learned 33 years ago. In a public statement last week, former health and human services secretary Mike Leavitt recommended that officials study the federal investigation of the 1976 program. Administration officials said they are keenly aware of the history.



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