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The Swine Flu Scare of 1976: U.S. Government Publications: Home

A bibliography of United States government publications about the Swine Flu scare of 1976. This is accompanied by a brief article summarizing events.

Summary of Events

The Swine Flu Scare of 1976


On February 4, 1976, a U.S. Army recruit at Fort Dix, New Jersey, came down with what was at first thought to be a cold – sore throat, headache, congestion and fever.  Although he was advised to stay in the barracks, he chose to go on a training march.  During the march, he collapsed and died.

 There were twelve other confirmed cases of this particular strain of influenza on base.  After an unrelated county medical meeting, New Jersey’s chief epidemiologist bet the senior Army doctor that there was a flu epidemic at Fort Dix.  To prove his point, he sent some cultures to the state laboratory.  The lab found that some samples contained a virus that didn’t match any of the three commonly recurring human influenza viruses.  Instead, it was similar to the type of swine flu that caused 20 million deaths worldwide in the 1918 influenza epidemic.  This strain of flu was officially names A/New Jersey, but was later commonly called swine flu.

On March 10, 1976, the Public Health Service’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reviewed the events and determined that a pandemic was possible and recommended that a public immunization program be launched.  They felt a need to make a very quick decision because the companies that make the flu vaccine had just finished manufacturing the flu vaccine to be used in the 1976-1977 flu season.  At that time, the vaccine was produced in fertilized hen’s eggs from special flocks of hens.  The hens and roosters needed to fertilize the eggs were scheduled to be slaughtered because they were no longer needed.  If this was done, the companies that produced the vaccine wouldn’t be ready to start making a new vaccine for three months.

 The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare recommended a national vaccination program be established.  This was endorsed by a Presidentially convened group of scientists, including Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk, and President Ford initiated the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP), meant to inoculate every man, woman, and child in the United States against the swine flu.  The proposal went to four Congressional committees, who reported out favorable legislation and the bills were passed and signed.  The estimated budget for this initiative was $137 million.

 Of course, at this point, there was no available vaccine.  The companies prepared and tested a vaccine, but refused to supply it unless the federal government guaranteed to bear the cost of any possible lawsuits resulting from the vaccine.  The government agreed to do so and the national vaccination campaign began.

This was the largest voluntary mass vaccination campaign since the programs that disseminated the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines.  By October, 45 million people, 25 percent of the U.S. population, had been vaccinated.

 There were several deaths among people who had received the vaccine, but these were felt to be unrelated to the vaccine.  Then, cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome began to appear among people who had received the vaccine and the immunization program was officially halted on December 16, 1976.

Thirty-two people who received the swine flu vaccine died from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  The only death from this outbreak of swine flu was the young soldier at Fort Dix.



 Adams, Rebecca and Kate Shuler.  “Lawmakers Weigh Incentives for High-Risk Vaccine Business.” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, v. 61, no. 41 (October 30, 2004): 2556-2559.

 Krause, Richard.  “The Swine Flu Episode and the Fog of Epidemics,” Emerging Infectious Diseases, v. 12, no. 1 (January 2006).

 Larkin, Timothy.  “The New Flu: What It Is and What Is Being Done About It,” FDA Consumer, v. 10, no. 4 (May 1976): 5-11.

 Sencer, David J. and J. Donald Millar, “Reflections on the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccination Program,” FDA Consumer, v. 12, no. 1 (January 2006): 29-33.

 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  The Swine Flu Affair: Decision-Making on a Slippery Disease, by Richard E. Neustadt and Harvey V. Fineberg.  (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1978).



NOTE:  This article first appeared in the newsletter of the Government Documents Round Table of Ohio, Docs Prescriptions, No. 63 (Spring 2006): 17-18.

Author of this LibGuide

Carol Singer's picture
Carol Singer
Library Teaching & Learning Department
Rm. 152 Jerome Library
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403