On February 4, 1976, a young soldier named David Lewis died of a new form of flu. In the middle of the month, F. David Matthews, the U.S. secretary of health, education, and welfare, announced that an epidemic of the flu that killed Pvt. Lewis was due in the fall. “The indication is that we will see a return of the 1918 flu virus that is the most virulent form of flu,” he said, reports Patrick di Justo for Salon. He went on: The 1918 outbreak of “Spanish flu” killed half a million Americans, and the upcoming apocalypse was expected to kill a million.
To avoid an epidemic, the CDC believed, at least 80 percent of the United States population would need to be vaccinated.
In March, President Ford announced a $137m (£67.5m in 1976) effort to produce a vaccine by the autumn. “Its goal was to immunize every man, woman, and child in the US, and thus was the largest and most ambitious immunization program ever undertaken in the United States,” wrote Imperato in a 2015 paper reflecting on the events.
450-odd people got the vaccination and then came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder. On its website, the CDC notes that people who got the vaccination did have an increased risk of “approximately one additional case of GBS for every 100,000 people who got the swine flu vaccine.”
The swine flu strain spotted at Fort Dix was not dangerous, and there would be no pandemic. Later, researchers discovered that benign swine flu strains had been circulating in the US population long before this one was identified at the military base.
Much like the Covid-19 “pandemic” of 2020, the scientists could only give the best advice they could be based on incomplete knowledge. Many public health officials were skeptical and uncertain too, including Imperato in New York. “I think all of us were in agreement that yes, it’s probably unlikely but we can’t be absolutely sure,” he recalls.
Flu season cases in the USA 2014-2015 – 30 million 2015-2016 – 24 million 2016-2017 – 29 million 2017-2018 – 45 million 2018-2019 – 36 million 2019-2020 – 38 million 2020-2021 – 2,000 See anything strange?