succeed.

From what others tell us, Sencer pressed Mathews harder than he need have done. He evidently underestimated either the sheer force of his own message unadorned, or Mathews, or perhaps both. Dickson remembers:

I presented the issue to Mathews…. He said to me, “What's the probability?” I said, “Unknown.” From the look on Mathews’ face when I said that, you could take it for granted that this decision was going to be made.

Mathews bears him out, commenting to us:

The moment I heard Sencer and Dickson, I knew the "political system" would have to offer some response. No way out, unless they were far out from the center of scientific consensus (a small band of people in influenza). They weren't—although some if those people waffled later. So it was inevitable….

As for the possibility of another 1918 … one had to assume the probability greater than zero. If they say "unknown" that's the least they can mean. Well, that's enough for action if you know in time. You can't face the electorate later, if it eventuates, and say well, the probability was so low we decided not to try, just two or five percent, you know, so why spend the money. The "political system" should, perhaps, but won't react that way…. So again, it's inevitable.

Moreover, Mathews recalls favoring the substance, risk aside. Sencer, in his view, would have been wrong had he conceived Administration preferences for state and private medicine as tantamount to lack of faith in immunization programs. These Mathews remembers liking. He recalls thinking the addition of a flu program desirable even had the risk seemed far away.


Dickson recalls something more in Mathews' reaction:

… politically impossible to say no, but more, it’s what “unknown” conveyed to [Mathews] about the risk in human terms … lives…. It didn’t seem to him remote at all.

Meyer, listening, watching, took relatively little part until late. This was not shyness, just prudence. He recalls some discomfort at Sencer’s “hard sell” but never having met Mathews before, he was unsure of the ground-rules. As he put it to us:

I felt uncomfortable about the firmness, absoluteness with which Sencer put the issue and the decision to the Secretary. Yet being a stranger to the Secretary I was hesitant about having rows with Sencer over tone.

Meyer remembers making two main points: The first was that with the uncertainty of a pandemic and likely reactions if none appeared, “everybody should be brought into the act ….” The second, in response to Mathews' inquiry, concerned safe manufacture of enough vaccine up to the proper standard: "a hell of a job" but it could be done.


The meeting ended on that note.



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