May 9, 2009

Errors of 1976 flu vaccine remembered

A U.S. plan to inoculate the nation against swine flu must avoid mistakes made in 1976 when dozens of people died from a vaccine, federal health officials said.

We're all reviewing the process that took place in 1976 to understand the lessons learned, said Richard E. Besser, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We may, as a nation, be faced with a similar decision about how to address a possible flu pandemic.

Forty million people were inoculated in the United States in 1976 after a swine flu strain was detected at New Jersey's Fort Dix. The inoculation program, however, was halted several months later after dozens of people died and hundreds more were paralyzed by the vaccine that had been rushed through production and field-testing, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

They moved too quickly. Mistakes were made, said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. People had vivid memories of the 1918 flu epidemic, of young people dropping dead. It colored everything.