OPINION: Here’s hoping new swine-flu try beats ‘76

Dear Lord, please don’t let my second swine-flu shot experience turn out like my first.
Yes, I plan to step up like a big girl and get my swine-flu shot, as soon as it’s available.
My employer is generous to make regular flu shots available next week. Roll up the sleeve and look away, that’s my procedure.
We very much disdain germs around here, so prevention is our goal. “Stay Home” is our motto for those who succumb to just about any passing crud.
All this talk about swine flu has me recalling back 30 years or so ago, when everybody was completely freaked out about the disease.
It was a virtually new threat, and even President Gerald Ford told us it was a patriotic thing to do, to get that shot.
I remember that photo showing him rolling up his sleeve in the Oval Office.
And so, being the obedient oldest-child type, I agreed to do it.
Wow, I cannot tell you what happened, but boy, oh, boy, did I feel really bad!
Back in 1976, they were not as competent as today’s CDC folks seem to be.
Here’s what happened, historically:
On Feb. 5, 1976, a U.S. Army recruit at Fort Dix said he felt tired and weak. He died the next day and four of his fellow soldiers were hospitalized. Two weeks after his death, health officials announced that the cause was a new strain of swine flu. A variant of today’s H1N1, it was detected only from Jan. 19 to Feb. 9 and did not spread beyond Fort Dix.
But as surveillance continued, a related strain picked up and lasted until March.
That was enough for everybody to freak out.
The vaccination program was plagued by delays and public relations problems.
It took until Oct. 1 for immunizations to begin, then three senior citizens died soon after receiving their injections.
More freak out, with a media outcry that linked these deaths to the immunizations, despite the lack of any proof that the vaccine was the cause.
Ultimately, it was proven that the deaths were not related to the vaccine.
But data showed some links to more than 500 cases of Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome and 25 deaths as a reaction to the 1976 vaccine.
Science writer Patrick Di Justo sized it up pretty well when he said, “The government had long feared mass panic about swine flu – now they feared mass panic about the swine flu vaccinations.” This became a strong setback to the program.
When the dust finally settled, the vaccine killed more Americans than the swine flu did.
Sanjay Gupta swears it’s different this time.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius does, too.
Maybe I’ll let them take their shots first.
By the time it’s my turn, after the priority people, they’re also likely to be giving it away, instead of paying a fee to my private doctor.
There should be enough folks to get the vaccine before I do, to give me a clue about how they’re reacting.
I was pretty tough 23 years ago, but I’m not so sure about this old shell in 2009.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfied/NEMS Daily Journal

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