Sunday, May 3, 2009

Swine flu hysteria killed my grandmother

Looking back to 1976, the bicentennial of our nation’s birth, we all remember the celebrations, huge fireworks displays, and many once-in-a-lifetime sales brought to you by Uncle Sam-clad car dealers. Cal Worthington and his “dog” Spot were my favorites.

I also remember the swine flu debacle of 1976, something that Obama’s administration appears to have overlooked while boning up on their American history. Back then, an Army recruit at Fort Dix took ill with the swine flu and died. He was the only fatality on record as a direct result of acquiring swine flu, but it was enough for Gerald Ford to pull the panic alarm.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control linked the 1976 version of swine flu to the 1918 Spanish flu, a plague that killed 500,000 in the United States and 20 million worldwide. Like the weathermen who predicted certain death for anyone choosing to stay on Galveston Island (population 58,000) during Hurricane Ike, these researchers speculated wildly about how many millions of people would be dead in a matter of months.

The difference? Six people died in Galveston County as a result of Hurricane Ike. In 1976, one person died from the swine flu.

Not to be deterred by the shortage of dead people in the winter of 1976, President Ford ordered enough swine flu vaccinations to inoculate the entire population of 220 million. Ford made his decision public on March 24th, the day after Ronald Reagan won a surprise victory in the North Carolina Republican primary. Call me cynical, but…

In the nick of time (that is, a month before the presidential election), the sera were ready for dispensing, but by mid-October reports were already coming in that elderly people were dying from the swine flu inoculations and some were showing signs of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.

Depending on where you find the information, between 20 and 40 people died from the inoculations. My grandmother, Ollie Vinette Shaw, was one of them. Knowing that Grandma Shaw faithfully got her flu shot every fall, one of my uncles got worried when seeing news reports about fatalities from the vaccinations. His call to my grandmother’s house in Nordheim, Texas, was too late. She had already gotten the shot.

Before this, Grandma Shaw was vibrant, mentally alert, and a regular attendee at the Saturday night dance in the next town over. A short time after trusting her life to a government that was overrun by bad science and the worst of political maneuvering, she was dead.

Now I feel like it’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra supposedly said. The news channels are in 24/7 swine flu (sorry, influenza A(H1N1)) mode and the parade of administration officials on the Sunday talk shows this morning was unbelievable. The video of chief panicker, Joe Biden, was played so many times I think I’ve got it memorized.

These administration officials spent a lot of time trying to convince the American people that the frenzy they’ve created is for real, but their Herculean efforts are starting to bear fruit. You can’t help but to think that a couple of them are praying for someone to die in order to sound their own vindication.

In the footsteps of the Swine Flu Fiasco of 1976, the SARS Epidemic of 2003, and the Bird Flu Scare of 2005, the H1N1 Panic of 2009 will go down as another Irwin Allen-esque disaster movie: Towering hype, a boat load of bad actors, and your hard-earned money (taxes, in this case) lost in space.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt


  1. Good Morning Mr. Hunt It was unfortuned that you lost your Grandmother to what should have been a life saving injection to save her.

    I can recall while going through further training after finishing basic training at Bainbridge Maryland that we were all given a flu shot. I believe the year was 1957 or 58. Our fighting Navy was given an experimental flu shot. The first of its kind back then. Many that were required to take it became very sick from this experimental shot. We had no say in the process as I recall, except if you had alergy to eggs. The virus was incubated in eggs at that time. It was very virlent to say the least.

    I was attending further training by the Navy at that time and we were all housed in the normal barracks situation as we had many sailors attending from all over the US.
    Once the flu epidemic became uncontrolable we were all confined to our barracks under a watchful quaratee.

    By the end of a few days it was not uncommon to see sailors being removed in body bags, due to the very high body temperatures. We had about 100 sailors at the start of the epidemic and when it was over we had lost more then 10 percent of those being housed there. It became rather scary as each day would progress to see another sailor you knew being carried out in a body bag and wondered if you would be the next victom of what was supposed to be a protective measure to help save you.

    Prior to comming to the training school I had just completed my basic training and during my basic training contacted measels. I spent a week in a coma from a high temperature, but managed to survive. I thought for sure that I would not be spared from such another attack to my body, but the man upstairs once again was watching over me and here I am today relating a mutal happenstance of life that we seem to commonaly share.

    CA Johansen

  2. Randy,

    First off, I must say that every once and a while I'll tune into your blog as a very unique perspective on what's going on back home. I graduated from SHS a few years back and like to keep up with news from home during the school year. While I seldom agree completely with your commentary, I find it to be a refreshing take on current events both locally and nationally. Most of all I appreciate that you genuinely seem to believe what you say and more often than are extremely reasoned in your arguments.

    I'm commenting for the first time because I find this post to be disconcerting as I believe it's misinformed (full disclosure: I'm currently studying health policy and public health). While I truly am empathetic about the loss of your grandmother to a reaction from an inoculation, as you point out in your post she was in the vast, VAST minority. By using a personal anecdote (as tragic as it was) and then infusing a general distrust for government spending into your argument, you seem to come to the conclusion that the H1N1 hysteria is just another instance of government wasting tax payer dollars. I couldn't disagree more.

    I take issue with your insinuation that the current Administration is using the swine flu outbreak for political purposes. Public health is one of the most important functions of our government. By public health, I don't mean Medicare, Medicaid, Commonwealth Care, or nearly anything currently being debated in Congress. Those are all issues that are highly politicized and be my guest to decry unnecessary government waste at the hands of these types of programs. Public health on the other hand is a function where we should not be snapping shut our wallets.

    Life expectancy in the US did not increase dramatically in the 20th century as a result of new medical procedures and technologies, but rather thanks to basic public health improvements provided by the government (think sanitation, clean running water, and immunization requirements). Today public health services mostly entire populations (as opposed to individuals) with preventive interventions to improve overall population health. Within their purview is the CDC.

    The CDC is the government ring leader of the swine flue hysteria. And I believe their actions thus far have been perfectly acceptable and I have trouble how they would constitute a waste in spending. H1N1 Influenza presented as a classical Pandemic Influenza, a disease (as the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza demonstrates) has the ability to kill millions of Americans. As facts were emerging, thanks to some shaky epidemiological reporting by the Mexican Government, the disease appeared to have a much higher attack and mortality rate than more in depth studies have begun to show.

    Based on this information and the fact that disease is obviously highly transmittable the government and Obama Administration took necessary steps to prevent what could have been (and possibly could still be) an extremely virulent epidemic. Outside of gaffe-master Biden, the Administration has been the opposite of alarmist while still conveying the seriousness of the threat. I would hope any administration Democrat or Republican would have taken similar actions. While flu season is winding down, come Fall I'll be the first in-line to receive a swine flu vaccination if offered along with my seasonal flu shot. I hope your readers will as well. The positives of vaccination from a population perspective vastly outweighs the few negatives that do exist.


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