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The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease
per on December 16, and fortuitously reached him in the White House Staff Mess, lunching with Cavanaugh. Mathews by chance was at another table. The three huddled quickly; Cooper then excused himself and made a call to Salk. The switchboard reached Salk in Paris. Without enthusiasm he concurred in Sencer’s view. Cooper and the others then walked down the hall to Ford. He heard them out, sighed and agreed. For most intents and purposes the swine flu program was over. With no disease in sight nine months after Ford’s announcement, even a rare side effect could turn him around.
That afternoon Cooper announced suspension of the swine flu program, saying that he was acting “in the interest of safety of the public, in the interest of credibility, and in the interest of the practice of good medicine.”27
Press comments were not kind. The TV anchormen conveyed no sense of loss. And five days later Harry Schwartz contributed an Op Ed piece in the New York Times. Entitled, “Swine Flu Fiasco,” it rounded off the points that he had previously made in anonymity:
The sorry debacle of the swine flu vaccine program provides a fitting end point to the misunderstandings and misconceptions that have marked Government approaches to health care during the last eight years ….
Any reasonable effort to assign responsibility for this state of affairs must call attention to at least the following elements:
The scarcity in the White House and in Congress of officials with sufficient sophistication in medical problems to be able to put biological reality before political expediency ….
The excessive confidence of the Government medical bureaucracy and its outside experts in urging the vaccination program on the country while playing down the uncertainties arising from the fact that medical science still knows comparatively little about the origin and spread of influenza epidemics ….
The self-interest of Government health bureaucracy which saw in the swine flu threat the ideal chance to impress the nation with the capabilities of saving money and lives by preventing disease.
In our view his first element overplays the politics. For the rest we offer a refinement. The “heavies” here were seven or eight personal agendas which happened to converge in the remembered light of 1918.