H1N1 1976—Did We Learn Anything? Our Last Experience Left Us Skeptical. Will That Change Things?

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H1N1 1976 To this day health researchers do not know for certain what, if any, causal relationship might have existed between the immunization program in 1976 and the increased cases of Guillain-Barre in the population who was vaccinated. But they do know that the number of cases was of concern. Since the actual flu virus had not been transmitted further, they decided that the risk of Guillain-Barre was greater than the risk of the virus at that point, so they stopped the immunization program.

Bringing Us To Today

Of course, the whole negative experience got burned into the public memory and plays a big role in the skepticism so many have toward the present H1N1 scare and the push to get vaccinated. Many health officials say there are differences between the situations then and now, and some contend that today’s vaccine would probably not offer the same risk of contracting Guillain-Barre. But they can’t be sure since they do not know for certain what happened back in 1976.

In addition, there is a lot of skepticism on the part of many health practitioners as to whether this strain is even being transmitted to any significant degree. The truth is that, like 1976, relatively few people are catching the H1N1 virus, and even fewer are dying from it.

There is a significantly greater number of tuberculosis sufferers than H1N1 sufferers, for example. Yet the media and public relations push to get vaccinated keeps rolling along, just as in 1976.

Health officials are trying to apply the lessons learned from the 1976 situation (some called it a debacle) to today’s concern with the flu virus.

Some experts say the situation was handled very well considering the circumstances, and showed how a large scale public health program like mass vaccination could work. Others say it was rushed into without adequate safeguards, based upon faulty premises. Still others say it was a public-relations ploy motivated by the political aspirations of Gerald Ford, who was seeking another term as president, and wanted to exhibit leadership capabilities in the face of this serious health crisis.

Decision Time?

So what does this mean for people who are trying to decide if they should get the flu vaccination? It depends on how they choose to interpret what happened in 1976. For some, this is a clear example of why they will refuse to succumb to the public pressure to get injected. Others say we need to be proactive, and are not alarmed by the weak link between the shots and the incidences of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Still others, such as Congressman Ron Paul, do not think the government should be running whole-scale health initiatives in the first place, considering the poor outcome of so many such programs in the past.

Finally, some people are convinced this whole flu scare is a scam being promoted by self-serving pharmaceutical companies wanting to sell vaccines. They believe the drug companies’ allies in government are helping promote the immunization program to help the bottom line for their pharmaceutical buddies.

Have we been here before? Well, sort of. And it looks like we might not have any clearer picture than we did back in 1976.

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