Swine Flu Circa 1976 & Now
Searching for something quite unrelated to the swine flu (H1N1) virus in the stacks a few weeks ago, I stumbled on the following government publications (warning – hearings were tightly bound):
– U.S. House. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. Swine Flu Immunization Program: Supplemental Hearings. June 28, July 20, 23, and September 13, 1976. (Serial Set No. 94-113). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976, (SuDoc: Y 4.In 84:94-113).
Note discussions on “The Need for Indemnification Legislation” (p.6); discussions between Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dr. Theodore Cooper, Department of Health, Education and Welfare (p. 18-21) on insurance companies not willing to extend coverage to vaccine manufacturers and a related Congressional Research Service report (June 22, 1976) on “exempting manufacturers of swine flu vaccine from liability” (p. 456). ***
– U.S. Senate. Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. Subcommittee on Health. Suspension of the Swine Flu Immunization Program, December 17, 1976. Washington: Government Printing Office, (SuDoc: Y 4.L 11/2:Sw 6/976).
Senator Edward M. Kennedy chaired the Subcommittee. In his opening remarks, Sen. Kennedy (p. 1) states:
“Over 35 million Americans received the flu shot thus far, and they have a right to know what exactly the situation is, as well as the need to be reassured that their health is not in jeopardy.”
In addition to numerous articles on swine flu program, the report also includes a February, 1977 Department of Health, Education and Welfare review of informed consent practices (p.21). Observe the Committee had serious concerns with manufacturer liability (p.2); Senator Jacob Javits (p.3) admits he was inoculated against the disease, stating the Guillain-Barré syndrome “may or may not have something to do with the swine flu shots.”
In 1976, as summarized by the Centers for Disease Control, the “national influenza campaign was designed to immunize nearly the entire United States population in fear of an influenza pandemic.” Research trials linked the A/New Jersey/1976/H1N1 vaccine with Guillain-Barré syndrome . The program was suspended in 1976.
I’m providing a scan of these docs as an historical backdrop to the current public debate. For further info, Bowling Green Libraries, Government Publications has compiled an excellent finding aid, “The Swine Flu Scare of 1976: U.S. Government Publications, A bibliography of United States government publications about the Swine Flu scare of 1976″ replete with SuDoc numbers (Superintendent of Documents classification system) so you may head to the shelves at your local gov docs repository to pull the docs.
What does any of this have to do with government secrecy? Everything. Sen. Kennedy stressed the need for informed consent in 1976; and in their systematic review of the 1976 swine flu program, Neustadt and Fineberg (p. 73) write in The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1978),
“…in short, we advocate a comprehensive definition and review of assumptions everyone can see and weigh before decision and remember after. The review thus should be public.”
The same appeal for transparency holds today.
While there are more than enough issues to tease apart vis-a-vis the H1N1 vaccine such as safety and efficacy, I find manufacturer liability and immunity as documented in these lost hearings – when juxtaposed with PREP*** – the most historically relevant to today’s global dilemma regarding mass vaccination, public health, and informed consent. The public deserves to know why vaccine manufacturers are offered a release from liability, as well as an opportunity to examine all internal federal agency (including deliberative) documents that led to this decision.
*** Consult the PREP Act (Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, Pub. L. No. 109-148,) on issues of manufacturer liability and immunity, especially the Tort Liability sections #1 & 2, and #7, the Secretary’s ability to issue a declaration based on a “triggering effect” that would then confer immunity.
Chapter 7 “Liability” of the The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease (National Academy of Science, 1978) offers insight into indemnification discussions and policy during the 1976 program.