Friday A/V Club: Vintage Swine Flu PSAs

Memories of the Ford administration.


As New York gears up for a new round of Ebola dread, here's an artifact from one of yesteryear's epidemic fears: a pair of public service announcements from the swine flu outbreak of 1976. I especially like the second one, which starts about 30 seconds in—it's a sort of micro horror movie with steadily more discordant music:

The '76 swine flu campaign became an infamous fiasco: The virus killed only one person, while several more people died from a side effect of the shots.

Ford gets a shot from Dr. Squeaky Fromme.
David Hume Kennerly

The mistakes made then have haunted the responses to subsequent public health threats, not just among those fringe characters who oppose all vaccines always but in the corridors of power. In 2002, Time reports, George W. Bush opted "not to administer a nationwide smallpox vaccination program—despite Vice President Dick Cheney's belief that doing so was a prudent counterterrorism step—because it could have resulted in dozens of deaths." Credit where it's due: The terrorist smallpox conspiracy never materialized, so Bush chose correctly.

In the case of Ebola, at any rate—where the disease is eating its way through West Africa and a vaccine is still in development—that sort of dilemma would be a vast improvement over the status quo.

(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)