WHO knows best? National and international responses to pandemic threats and the "lessons" of 1976

J Hist Med Allied Sci. 2010 Oct;65(4):478-513. doi: 10.1093/jhmas/jrq002. Epub 2010 Mar 15.


The discovery of a novel influenza strain at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1976-dubbed Swine Flu-prompted differing responses from national and international health organizations. The United States crafted a vaccination campaign to inoculate every citizen; conversely, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a 'wait and see' policy. An examination of the WHO conference that issued the influenza policy reveals the decision was driven by the limits of its member states' ability to produce inactivated vaccine and concern over the premature use of unstable live-virus vaccines. The WHO recommendation's reliance upon an uneven surveillance system would have replicated the 1957 and 1968 vaccination failures if a pandemic had appeared.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Global Health
  • Health Policy / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H1N1 Subtype*
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / history*
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • International Cooperation / history
  • Pandemics / history*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pandemics / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Health / history
  • Public Health Practice / history
  • United States
  • World Health Organization / history*