In 1976, due to an outbreak of influenza at Fort Dix, New Jersey, the United States set a precedent in immunology by attempting to vaccinate the entire population of the country against the possibility of a swine-type Influenza A epidemic. While a great many people were successfully immunized in a very short period of time, the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP) quickly became recognized as a failure, one reason being that the feared epidemic never surfaced at all. But this massive undertaking deserves more analysis than just a simple repudiation. For example, all evidence linked to the pathology, microbiology, and historical cycle of influenza and the outbreak at Fort Dix suggests that the reactions of the scientists and other personnel involved in the NIIP were correct. However, one must also acknowledge the many complications and misjudgments that plagued the program after its initiation, from biological difficulties, logistical problems, to tensions with the media. The swine flu is a historical event that needs to be evaluated, regarding both its successes and its failures, so that lessons can be learned for future immunization programs.
While influenza, or the "flu", is not commonly recognized as an extremely lethal disease, the pathology of influenza, and especially of the kind found at Fort Dix, does suggest that an immunization program was a reasonable course to take in 1976. In the public's mind, influenza is often not seen as a specific disease, using interchangeable names for it like "flu", "gripe", and "virus". (Silverstein: 1) However, influenza is very different from an everyday low fever or "stomach flu". It is a respiratory infection, connected with a fever, coughing, and muscle aches, which often lasts a few days in duration.
While the disease itself is usually harmless, it can lead to exposure of the lungs to viral or bacterial pneumonia, which can prove fatal, especially for the very young, elderly, or infirm. (Silverstein: 13) There are three types of influenza, depending on their activity: type A, which is usually the cause of outbreaks; type B, which is linked to sporadic cases, and type C, which rarely causes disease reactions. (Silverstein: 54) The virus which causes influenza enters the host through the respiratory tract, and binds itself to epithelial cells. The virus causes the cell to engulf it by endocytosis, and then fuses to the wall of the endocytic vesicle, injecting the contents of the virus into the cytosol of the cell. The RNA of the virus enter the nucleus of the cell, and spur the creation of new copies of the genes. These genes, as well as new viral proteins that are created in the cell, leave the cell as fresh viruses, budding off the plasma membrane of the cell.
While Scientists still do not know a great deal about the communicability of influenza, they do know that it can be spread by human-to-human contact, and has some airborne stability. (Silverstein: 59) Specifically, the...