25. The Swine Flu Snafu
On February 4, 1976, the swine flu scare began when state health authorities,
conducting a routine check on a flu outbreak at the Fort Dix, New Jersey,
Army base, found they could not identify the virus in some of the blood
samples taken from the sick soldiers. Shortly thereafter, a barrage
of conflicting information about swine flu and the mass immunization
program was launched in the mass media. Early strong support for the
immunization program from the administration and health authorities
led to a number of people being inoculated. The widely publicized deaths
of some of them, along with contradictory reports by other health authorities,
led much of the nation to turn away from the inoculations. One outspoken
critic of the flu program was J. Anthony Morris, a microbiologist with
the Food and Drug Administration and a longtime critic of flu vaccines.
He predicted that inoculation might result in hypersensitivity and trigger
neurologic illnesses ranging from persistent headaches to encephalitis
to paralysis to Guillain-Barre and to death. He was fired from the FDA
by Commissioner Alexander Schmidt for "insubordination." Speculation
was offered as to whether there was such a disease; whether it represented
a grave threat to life, and whether or not the remedy was a greater
danger than the illness. One group which was not confused by the conflicting
information was the insurance companies who refused coverage to the
four manufacturers of the swine flu serum. Federal Insurance Company,
principal underwriter for the drug companies, explained to Business
Insurance in May, 1976, that it was not convinced that there has been
time enough to test the vaccine for side effects. Unfortunately for
those who died or suffered paralysis following swine flu inoculations,
the media message was not as clear. The swine flu snafu story is being
nominated as a "censored" story of 1976 not because it did
not receive enough media coverage, but because it received so much conflicting
and inadequately-researched coverage, that the public was in the end
SOURCES: (In addition to the following examples of contradictory media
coverage, there was countless coverage of the swine flu problem in magazines
and newspapers, and on radio and television.)
Time, April 26, 1976: "Flap Over Swine Flu."
Business Insurance, May 1976.
New Times, June 11, 1976: "Sweating Out the Swine Flu Scare."
Newsweek, July 12, 1976: "Swine Flu Snafu."
Time, December 27, 1976: "Roll Down Your Sleeves .. "
U.S. News & World Report, December 27, 1976: "End of Road for
the Swine Flu Program."
Parade, March 13, 1977: "Scientist J. Anthony Morris -- He Fought
The Flu Shots and the U.S. Fired Him."