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The 1976 Swine Flu Campaign: Chronology of Major Events


  • Mid-January: Large number of cases of respiratory disease are reported among Army recruits at Fort Dix, New Jersey; Walter Reed Army Laboratory identifies adenovirus as cause of earlier outbreak of respiratory disease at Fort Meade, Maryland.

  • February 13: Scientists at CDC confirm that the isolates are indeed swine-type influenza A viruses; at Sencer’s request, Dr. Walter Dowdle, head of CDC’s labs, notifies scientists and health officials across the country of the A swine discovery, and invites them to a meeting at CDC the next day.

  • March 24: President goes before television cameras to announce that he is recommending a mass vaccination program for all Americans and urges that Congress immediately pass a special $135 million appropriation.

  • October 1: First swine flu shots given.

  • November 12: Case of Guillain-Barré Syndrome in Minnesota vaccinee.

  • December 16: Sencer conducts morning conference call, his third in four days, with 20 experts from NIAID, BoB [Bureau of Biologics] and the states, conferees agree on recommendation of a one month suspension to allow for investigation of link; Sencer calls Cooper with the recommendation; Cooper confers with Mathews and Cavanaugh; telephones Salk; President okays suspension.


  • January 14: ACIP meets in Atlanta and concludes that the moratorium on all influenza vaccine ought to be lifted; observes that flu shots do appear to entail some slight additional risk of contracting Guillain-Barré (estimated at one case for every 100,000 to 200,000 vaccinations); recommends that main focus of resumed program should be on high risk group.

SOURCE: Adapted with permission from Neustadt and Fineberg (1978).

this apparent threat, and then—amid political wrangling and media scrutiny—to suspend that program less than three months later in order to investigate a possible serious side-effect of the vaccine (see Sencer and Millar in Appendix A11). Sencer said that the intention of his remarks was to highlight “what went right” in this series of events that is often referred to as a “fiasco” or “debacle” (Neustadt and Fineberg, 1978).

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