The Long Shadow of the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccine ‘Fiasco’ | Smithsonian Magazine

But this is a story about one time over 40 years ago when poor decision-making on the part of the government led to the unnecessary vaccination of about 45 million citizens.

On February 4, 1976, a young soldier named David Lewis died of a new form of flu. In the middle of the month, F. David Matthews, the U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare, announced that an epidemic of the flu that killed Pvt. Lewis was due in the fall. “The indication is that we will see a return of the 1918 flu virus that is the most virulent form of flu,” he said, reports Patrick di Justo for Salon. He went on: The 1918 outbreak of “Spanish flu” killed half a million Americans, and the upcoming apocalypse was expected to kill a million.

That earlier pandemic was another form of swine flu, di Justo writes, and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control thought that what was happening could well be a new, even deadlier strain that was genetically close to the 1918 strain.

The real victims of this pandemic were likely the 450-odd people who came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, after getting the 1976 flu shot. On its website, the CDC notes that people who got the vaccination did have an increased risk of “approximately one additional case of GBS for every 100,000 people who got the swine flu vaccine.”

The Long Shadow of the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccine ‘Fiasco’ | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine