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1976 swine flu PSAs attempt to scare citizens into getting shots

April 28, 2009 | 11:46 am

Flu-fear An enterprising conspiracy theorist on Monday posted a pair of U.S. government PSAs from 1976, urging citizens to quickly get a swine flu vaccine or risk becoming "very sick"-- although that pandemic never materialized.

The two sensational videos attempt to show that anyone and everyone can get the bug and pass it to children, teachers, postal workers, veterinarians and acquaintances. ("Betty's mother gave it to her best friend Dottie, but Dottie had a heart condition and she died.")

The spots were released by the U.S. Public Health Service, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services partially dedicated to minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. 

The agency, evidently, had a taste for scaremongering. As it turned out, its recommendation was unfounded. Not only did the 1976 swine flu scare result in only 200 cases and a single fatality, but the $135-million vaccination effort did more harm than good: The Centers for Disease Control halted the effort after several days after worrying that the vaccine was causing a rare neurological condition that resulted in the deaths of 25 people.

With that background in mind, these PSAs become shrouded in a grim irony.

-- David Sarno

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