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The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease
frame provisions which could help police those profits (at best a problematic task). Nor were CDCers close enough to Congress to appreciate the symbolism. The administrative judgment—quickly made, so we are told—was that time was too short for fuss; post-audit would suffice. This left the symbols in prospective disarray, and since has drawn sharp questions from the Rogers subcommittee.18
Third is another contract problem, the amounts and timing of vaccine deliveries. Here the contract officers, plodding a straight and narrow path, made an egregious error in external relations. They did it the day after Ford had signed his legislation. By wire to the manufacturers, they cut in half (from 100 to 50 million) their minimum purchase guarantee on swine flu doses. And they set December 3 as the last date for deliveries. The theory, at least about the date, was defensible, given the lateness of the program’s start and the imminence of flu season. The symbolism was intolerable, given Ford’s and Cooper’s pledges that there would be shots for everyone. Predictably the manufacturers protested, Sencer retorted, Mathews urged speed and Ford got sore: “That program damn well better run right.”19 Then Rogers held a hearing, the manufacturers made a case, Cooper overruled Sencer, and the deadline was extended to January 15. The cumulative total of swine doses would then be 146 million, enough for everyone over 18, however belated their shots.
Up the hill and down again. What was the point in all that?
Sencer, defending the performance of his people, told us that in these instances they were the prisoners of Feiner's lawyers and of local counsel who compounded indecisiveness with nitpicking. If so, two staffs in combination failed to cope with the dimensions of the work they had to do.
With each of these examples, the press could have had quite a lot of fun had not Ford’s nomination and the start of the campaign preempted reportorial attention. Indeed, the large political events that summer had kept reportage down before as well as after Legionnaire’s Disease. This is particularly noticeable in the TV coverage of the insurance struggle and its sudden outcome. On their evening news shows NBC gave rather more attention than did CBS, perhaps for reasons running back to differences of emphasis in March. A non-political program, technically respectable, caught in a tussle between President and Congress may have more intrinsic interest to editors or producers than one thought to be politicized and rotten to the core. The coverage on those networks lends this speculation credence. At any rate there was a rather dry spell in July and then, after the early August flurry, still another. This was a boon for CDC. Had investigative reporters had time heavy on their hands that summer—as for instance the next summer—swine flu could have been a gold mine whichever way one’s predilections ran, non-political, rotten, or both.
Even so, the cumulative coverage of swine flu by all media, from February through the early August scare and legislation, produced an extraordinary result. The Gallup Poll reported August 31 that 93 percent of all Americans had heard about the swine flu program; 53 percent intended to get shots. This bore out a separate poll commissioned by CDC.