The influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 was a profoundly traumatic event. It killed some 50 million people and infected up to a third of the world’s population. Unlike most flu strains, this one was particularly deadly for young adults between ages 20 and 40, meaning that many children lost one or both parents. For doctors and scientists who’d believed they were beginning to conquer infectious diseases, the pandemic was a devastating blow. After it was over, no one really wanted to talk about it—and besides, there was so much else going on.
“When I teach my U.S. history course, I tell my students, 1919 is in the running for the worst year in American history,” says Nancy Tomes, a distinguished professor of history at Stony Brook University who has written about the pandemic.
In 1919, the U.S. was still battling the pandemic, had just fought a war and was now in a deep recession. There were strikes throughout the country, including the first general strike in Seattle. During that year’s Red Summer, white mobs violently attacked Black communities, and Black Americans—many of whom had served their country in World War I and were tired of unequal citizenship—fought back. And in the midst of the first Red Scare, the Justice Department responded to high-profile anarchist bombings with the Palmer Raids.
Whatever the reason, Americans didn’t seem to want to talk about their experience during the pandemic. And because they were reluctant to talk or write about the pandemic, future generations weren’t always aware of it. It became, as the late historian Alfred W. Crosby put it in the title of his 1974 book, “America's forgotten pandemic.”
READ MORE: When Mask-Wearing Rules in the 1918 Pandemic Faced Resistance
Pandemic Was Traumatic Event for Doctors
The first recorded cases of the 1918 flu were at a U.S. Army camp in Kansas in March 1918. By the late summer and early fall, a second, deadlier wave of the flu emerged and caused particular devastation at Camp Devens in Massachusetts. About a third of the 15,000 people at the camp became infected, and 800 died. Victor Vaughan was one of the doctors who witnessed this outbreak. Yet in his 1926 book, A Doctor’s Memories, he barely mentioned this important historical event.
“I am not going into the history of the influenza epidemic,” he wrote. “It encircled the world, visited the remotest corners, taking toll of the most robust, sparing neither soldier nor civilian, and flaunting its red flag in the face of science.”
Before 1918, Vaughan and many other doctors were extremely optimistic about their ability to combat disease. Although infectious diseases still accounted for a larger percentage of deaths in the United States than they do today, advances in medicine and sanitation had made doctors and scientists confident that they could one day largely eliminate the threat of these diseases.
The flu pandemic changed all that. “It was, for [Vaughan], a really traumatic event that made him question his profession and what he thought he had known about the possibilities of modern medicine,” says Nancy Bristow, chair of the history department at the University of Puget Sound and author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.
The 1918 flu is conspicuously absent from other doctors’ books, too. Hans Zinsser, who worked for the Army Medical Department during the pandemic, didn’t discuss it in Rats, Lice and History, his 1935 book about the role of disease in history.
“One of the reasons I think that we didn’t talk about the flu for 100 years was that these guys weren’t talking about it,” says Carol R. Byerly, author of Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I. “They would say, ‘we really didn’t have much infectious disease, except for the flu;’ and ‘our camp did very well, except for that flu epidemic.’”
READ MORE: Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly
Few Personal Stories Were Published
It wasn’t just doctors. No one really wanted to talk or write about what it was like to live through the flu. Newspaper articles about the pandemic didn’t usually describe the personal stories of those who died or survived, says J. Alex Navarro, assistant director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and one of the editors-in-chief of The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia.
“It’s striking to me,” he says. “I’ve read…probably thousands of newspaper articles on influenza from all these cities throughout the pandemic, and I can list off the ones that stand out that talk about the personal tragedies of common folk because they’re just so few and far between.”
Navarro recalls one such story in Chicago about Angelo Padula, a man who went out one night to find a physician for his flu-stricken family. Finding and affording medical care was extremely difficult for poor families like his. When Padula couldn’t locate anyone to help him, he jumped into the Chicago River and drowned.
Over the next several decades, Historians who wrote about 1918 focused on World War I rather than the flu, even though the flu had a major impact on the war. The chaotic events of 1919 may have also overshadowed the specific trauma of the pandemic. This had consequences not just for the historical record, but likely also for those who survived the flu.
“Something we know about trauma now is that when people suffer through really traumatic experiences…the opportunity to talk through your trauma and to be heard as you tell the story is really essential,” Bristow says. “So the forgetting had consequences, I think.”
See all pandemic coverage here.
Why Was The 1918 Flu Pandemic Forgotten?
The current COVID-19 pandemic is, in many ways, unprecedented. Joshua Keating at Slate argued that it is the first truly global event, affecting practically the entire world’s population at the same time and in similar ways. Commentators and pundits have had to delve back decades to find a comparable event. Many of them have settled on the 1918 flu pandemic, the last virus to wreak the kind of havoc that COVID-19 has. In its contagious nature and massive death toll, the 1918 flu approaches a historical precedent for our current social, political, and cultural challenges.
Many of the steps taken to fight the 1918 pandemic have been reviewed in recent weeks as the nation fights this current pandemic. One of the most common of these was social distancing. An often-shared example from the period is the difference in approaches taken by St. Louis and Philadelphia to combat the disease. St. Louis imposed a number of social distancing measures while Philadelphia still held parades for victory in the First World War. By the end of the first flu season, Philadelphia had suffered a much higher death toll than St. Louis and similarly strict cities. This anecdote, which emerged in the early weeks of the current crisis, has been matched by a steady stream of news stories from the 1918 pandemic that have relevance to today, including a 1918 movement against wearing masks.
Perhaps the most substantial parallel between 1918’s flu pandemic and today’s COVID-19 outbreak is the possibility of an abrupt end to the crisis. After wreaking havoc around the world for two seasons, the 1918 virus mostly disappeared. The early social distancing restrictions vanished. Flu death rates dropped from thousands per week to a handful. While some legacies of the pandemic remained in areas such as architecture and the arts, the event soon became a distant memory. The Growth of the American Republic, one of the most influential American history textbooks of the 20th century, does not even mention it. In the age of COVID-19, it is difficult to imagine such a deadly period would become less than a historical footnote.
There is the distinct possibility that such a fate will befall the historical legacy of COVID-19. Many commentators believe that this is impossible, given our current interconnected world and the ubiquitous nature of documentation. But there is no way to predict how this disease will be remembered if a safe, effective vaccine eradicates it next year. The disappearance of this disease would ease the worries of the world’s population and allow a total return to previous behaviors, as well as a boon to several industries. But it also risks leading to cultural amnesia that will make future pandemics more damaging and surprising as a result.
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"Crosby will retain his reputation as a senior statesman of the 1918 influenza epidemic, as one of the first to study it comprehensively. " Linda Bryder, The International History Review
"[This] is a definitive account of the 1918 influenza epidemic in the United States. Alfred Crosby has systematically covered the effect of influenza upon the armed forces, major cities, and American territories. Over and above this he has depicted the spread and impact of the disease over a good part of the world." Journal of the History of Medicine
"[This] is a fine, galloping account of the influenza pandemic that killed some 25 million people in less than a year. In some ways it was a page out of the Middle Ages bound in the twentieth century. No plague ever killed so many people in so short a time." Natural History
"Thoroughly researched and rich in detail, Crosby's book carefully narrates the rise and fall of the global pandemic, especially as it affected the United States." Medical History
". fascinating. " New York Sun
About the Author
The forgotten agony - the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19
The World Health Organisation has recently released a plan designed to meet ‘the greatest threat to global public health.’ The report describes the threat as neither predictable nor preventable, and not a question of if it will strike the world, but when. The Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030 aims to enable the world to better coordinate and respond to the threat posed by a potential influenza pandemic. In our increasingly globalised and interconnected world the threats posed by such pandemics are taken extremely seriously. This is due, in part, to the experiences of a previous pandemic, when global movements saw a virus emerge that would devastate a worldwide population already scarred by the carnage of war.
Although a number of pandemics have occurred in previous decades, the most deadly was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. The Spanish Flu has been described by the author Laura Spinney as ‘the greatest tidal wave of death since the Black Death, perhaps in the whole of human history.’ This pandemic is estimated to have caused the deaths of between 50-100 million people and infected one-third of the human population, around 500 million people. The flu killed far more than either the First or Second World Wars, and may even have killed more than the death tolls from both conflicts combined. The flu forced fundamental changes to public heath care systems across the globe and its severity and impact is still felt today.
The flu that most people are aware of is a seasonal virus that circulates across the globe in the colder months. Although the flu virus can effect humans, it is also prevalent in birds and mammals. Sometime in late 1917 or early 1918 a strain of avian flu managed to make the transition from birds to humans. Historians still debate the exact location of ‘patient zero,’ the very first human to become infected with this deadly new strain. Some scientists such as British virologist Professor John Oxford argue that the outbreak began in a hospital camp in Etaples, France, whilst others suggest that it began in a US Army camp in Kansas.
"We are facing a health threat unlike any other in our lifetimes."
A message from @antonioguterres, Secretary-General of @UN. #CoronavirusOutbreak pic.twitter.com/Zhs8o0iLUP
— HISTORY UK (@HISTORYUK) March 16, 2020
Spain was immune from the censorship that limited the wartime nations press. When the Spanish King was struck down many newspapers were finally able to report on the outbreak that was sweeping across the world. These press reports then led to a mistaken belief that the outbreak had started in Spain.
The unusual circumstances of 1918 helped the virus to travel further and faster than in any previous event in human history. The First World War resulted in the largest global migration of humans yet seen. This enabled the virus to spread, on troopships and transports, to every corner of the globe. Furthermore, the large concentrations of people, especially in the military, enabled the virus to infect individuals with lightning speed.
Although the study of bacteria was well known, the presence of viruses had been postulated but never proven because no equipment then existed to observe something so small. This meant that when the outbreak occurred there was no way of studying the virus effectively or developing a cure.
The Spanish Flu instead appeared to target young men and women between the ages of 18-35
A further terrifying feature of the outbreak that was apparent from its onset was the main age group of its victims. Seasonal influenza normally targets children under the age of 4 or elderly grandparents over the age of 65. The Spanish Flu instead appeared to target young men and women between the ages of 18-35. This age group normally has the strongest and healthiest immune systems, able to fight off any illnesses. However the Spanish Flu turned its victims own immune systems against them. The virus would trigger a Cytokine Storm, an autoimmune response whereby the victims immune system goes into overdrive, attacking and causing significant damage to lung tissue. This damage would cause the victims to turn blue as their bodies battled for oxygen. Victims would then eventually drown as their lungs filled with fluid.
The first wave of the outbreak in early 1918 was mild by comparison, but by August a second far deadlier strain was sweeping the world.
The devastating impact of the virus is illustrated in the ways it affected local communities. The first reports of the virus hitting the town of Crewe in the North West of England occurs in June of 1918. It reportedly laid low many of its residents, especially in its large railway works which would prove the perfect breeding ground for the virus. By November the virus had claimed 60 lives in just a 10 day period and resulted in 115 internments in Crewe’s cemetery, the highest in any month since the cemetery opened. In November 1918 of the 38 men killed on active service 18 are confirmed to have died of an influenza related illness.
The influenza virus is a parasite that can only live in an infected host. The most successful strain would be the one in which the host stayed alive, enabling the virus to be passed on. If the virus killed the host its chances of being passed on become limited. This helps to explain the spikes in death rates, and why the virus came and went so quickly. The virus became a victim of its own success, its deadly nature resulted in victims failing to pass on more deadly strains, which eventually led to the virus appearing to seemingly vanish after the end of the third wave in 1919.
The virus caused worldwide devastation to communities ravaged by the effects of war. The world of 1920 wanted to forget the terrible experiences of the war years, and so the Spanish Flu was confined to memory. In the years that have followed however, scientists have studied its devastating effects, using the outbreak as a model in how to cope with future pandemics. The virus is still around today, although in a less deadly form than when ‘the Spanish Lady’ first struck one hundred years ago.
The Dark History of Vaccines
The procedure of INOCULATION was brought to the attention of Western science by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1721, after observing a “smallpox party” while on vacation in Turkey. Inoculation is the practice of introducing infected pus into the body. The collateral smallpox cases spread by variolated subjects shortly after variolation began to outweigh the benefits of the procedure.
(known as variolation after the introduction of smallpox vaccine to avoid possible confusion)
Jenner called th e material used for inoculation vaccine, from the root word vacca, which is Latin for cow
In 1751, Jenner presented his booklet to the Royal Society who turned it down. Thus scorned by his peers, Jenner published the book himself. If a researcher today failed peer review and then self-published, how would the work be received? — http://www.jennifercraig.net/blog/2014/6/16/smallpox-vaccine-the-origins-of-vaccine-madness-february-26-2010
Vaccination for smallpox was fraudulently inaugurated and dishonestly maintained to the financial and health cost to the public which is beyond estimation. It did little or nothing to eradicate smallpox in endemic areas, has been directly responsible for thousands of deaths since its inception in the UK alone, and has sown the seeds of disease throughout the world.
England, 1852: Compulsory vaccination against smallpox introduced.
1857–1859: Smallpox epidemic kills 14,244 people.
1863–1865: Another epidemic kills 20,059 people.
1867: Even stricter vaccination law passed, including prosecution for those who refuse.
1871: Chief Medical Officer of England announces vaccination rate of 97.5% has been achieved.
1872: Worst ever smallpox epidemic, 44,840 people die.
1898: Vaccination Act amended to allow conscientious objections.
1907: Vaccination Act repealed.
By 1919, vaccination rates in England and Wales have plummeted. There are 28 deaths attributed to smallpox, out of population of 37.8 million.
Just another example of vaccine “efficacy”…
1901–13 Children die from contaminated vaccines
A horse used to produce over seven gallons of serum that held antibodies used against diphtheria was found to have contracted tetanus and was put to sleep. At about the same time, a girl in St. Louis died, and it was discovered that the serum from Jim had caused her death. Damningly, the samples had not been tested — a process that could easily have uncovered the infection. Additionally, bottles of serum taken on September 30 had been marked “August 24.” Such oversights cost the lives of a further 12 children.
The episode contributed in part to the passing of the United States Biologics Control Act of 1902 and paved the way for the introduction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1906.
1918 — Experimental bacterial meningitis vaccine may have caused the Spanish Flu.
The reason modern technology has not been able to pinpoint the killer influenza strain from this pandemic is because influenza was not the killer.
More soldiers died during WWI from disease than from bullets.
The pandemic was not flu. An estimated 95% (or higher) of the deaths were caused by bacterial pneumonia, not influenza/a virus.
The pandemic was not Spanish. The first cases of bacterial pneumonia in 1918 trace back to a military base in Fort Riley, Kansas.
From January 21 — June 4, 1918, an experimental bacterial meningitis vaccine cultured in horses by the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York was injected into soldiers at Fort Riley.
During the remainder of 1918 as those soldiers — often living and traveling under poor sanitary conditions — were sent to Europe to fight, they spread bacteria at every stop between Kansas and the frontline trenches in France.
One study describes soldiers “with active infections (who) were aerosolizing the bacteria that colonized their noses and throats, while others — often, in the same “breathing spaces” — were profoundly susceptible to invasion of and rapid spread through their lungs by their own or others’ colonizing bacteria.” (1)
The “Spanish Flu” attacked healthy people in their prime. Bacterial pneumonia attacks people in their prime. Flu attacks the young, old and immunocompromised.
When WW1 ended on November 11, 1918, soldiers returned to their home countries and colonial outposts, spreading the killer bacterial pneumonia worldwide.
During WW1, the Rockefeller Institute also sent the antimeningococcic serum to England, France, Belgium, Italy and other countries, helping spread the epidemic worldwide.
1918: The Bayer Aspirin Scandal
Bacteriologic and histopathologic results from published autopsy series clearly and consistently implicated secondary bacterial pneumonia caused by common upper respiratorytract bacteria in most influenza fatalities. Strep infections and not the flu virus itself may have killed most people during the 1918 influenza pandemic. High aspirin dosing levels used to treat patients during the 1918–1919 pandemic are now known to cause, in some cases, toxicity and a dangerous build up of fluid in the lungs, which may have contributed to the incidence and severity of symptoms, bacterial infections, and mortality.
1934: Prematurely employed polio vaccine kills and paralyses children
In 1934 and 1935, two polio vaccines were prematurely employed in large-scale trials with disastrous results. The vaccines, given to 17,000 children in Canada and the U.S., killed six and paralyzed a dozen others, the deaths and paralyses typically involving paralysis in the inoculated arm rather than in the legs, as was more normal. So traumatic was this experience — to both the public and the research establishment — that it would take another two decades before another polio vaccine would be brought to market.
1940–1970: Mass Poisoning With Persistent Pesticides Causes “Polio”
These four chemicals were not selected arbitrarily. These are representative of the major pesticides in use during the last major polio epidemic. They persist in the environment as neurotoxins that cause polio-like symptoms, polio-like physiology, and were dumped onto and into human food at dosage levels far above that approved by the FDA. They directly correlate with the incidence of various neurological diseases called “polio” before 1965. They were utilized, according to Biskind, in the “most intensive campaign of mass poisoning in known human history.”
1955–1963: Monkey virus SV40 is found in Polio vaccine
The discovery of SV40 revealed that between 1955 and 1963 around 90% of children and 60% of adults in the U.S. were inoculated with SV40-contaminated polio vaccines. For four decades, government officials have insisted that there is no evidence the simian virus called SV40 is harmful to humans. But in recent years, dozens of scientific studies have found the virus in a steadily increasing number of rare brain, bone and lung-related tumors — the same malignant cancer SV40 causes in lab animals.
In April 1955 more than 200 000 children in five Western and mid-Western USA states received a polio vaccine in which the process of inactivating the live virus proved to be defective. Within days there were reports of paralysis and within a month the first mass vaccination programme against polio had to be abandoned. Subsequent investigations revealed that the vaccine, manufactured by the California-based family firm of Cutter Laboratories, had caused 40 000 cases of polio, leaving 200 children with varying degrees of paralysis and killing 10.
1955–65: Polio Vaccine causes Aids
Two scientific greats, Dr. Hilary Koprowski, director of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and Dr. Albert Sabin, a physician at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, raced to replace the Salk vaccine. Dr. Cecil Fox, a pathologist at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases remembers that it was an intense competition.
Both Sabin and Koprowski’s vaccines were derived from monkey organs. They needed to test them in large, non-immunized population groups, no longer available in North America.
Sabin traveled to the U.S.S.R. and vaccinated more than 6 million people in Latvia, Estonia and Kazakhstan between 1958 and 1959. No AIDS cases emerged in the U.S.S.R. where Sabin did his testing.
Koprowski moved his study to the Belgian Congo which had one of Africa’s more modern health care infrastructures at the time. Between 1956 and 1960 more then 1 million African people were ‘encouraged’ to receive Koprowski’s vaccine called CHAT.
Sabin analyzed Koprowski’s vaccine in 1958 and found it be be ‘unstable and contaminated by an unknown virus’. He told Koprowski about his discovery and went then went public with his findings.
1973: The Brain Tumor Horror
A 1973 prospective study of more than 50,000 pregnancies concluded that inactivated polio vaccines given to pregnant women in that study between 1959 and 1965 were associated with excess malignancies and brain tumors in children born to those mothers.
1976: Swine Flu Scandal
In 1976, the American government, warned by scientists that an epidemic of the swine flu was imminent, pressed all American adults to line up for a hastily developed jab. One of every 100,000 Americans given the shot developed Guillain-Barre paralysis from a vaccine that was insufficiently tested for a disease that, in the end, never arrived. The government ended up paying out $93 million in compensation to victims.
Late 1970’s: HepB vaccine spreads AIDS
Hilleman collected blood from gay men and intravenous drug users — groups known to be at risk for viral hepatitis. This was in the late 1970s, when HIV was yet unknown to medicine. In addition to the sought-after hepatitis B surface proteins, the blood samples likely contained HIV. Hilleman devised a multistep process to purify this blood so that only the hepatitis B surface proteins remained. Every known virus was killed by this process, and Hilleman was confident that the vaccine was safe.
The first large-scale trials for the blood-derived vaccine were performed on gay men, in accordance with their high-risk status. Later, Hilleman’s vaccine was blamed for igniting the AIDS epidemic.
Medical treatment is the cause of more HIV cases than those that are sexually transmitted. David Gisselquist and John Potterat
Several behavioral studies has found that Africans are not more sexually promiscuous than people in North America or Europe.
Even if HIV is mainly transfered through anal sex between men and dirty needles used by drug addicts in the West, it has spread throughout the general population of Africa!
1986: Vaccine manufacturers no longer liable
Prior to 1986 the vaccine manufacturers could be held liable and sued for vaccine injuries however, they were being sued so often and losing so much money they went to the federal government and threatened to stop making vaccines if they weren’t protected.
The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was born. Vaccine manufacturers are no longer liable from any harm that is caused by their products. The tax payer now has to pay for injuries or deaths that occur.
It’s Interesting at the same time that the Pharmaceutical companies were granted immunity from being sued that autism started to skyrocket.
They ordered vaccine manufacturers to turn over their documents and found them graphing how much it would cost for a brain damaged baby.
They determined that a dead baby costs less than a brain damaged baby.
By graphing these costs, they determined how much they would need to charge for the vaccines to still profit.
A judge in NJ ordered one of the companies to produce their documents and only gave them 48 hrs. They did this because the manufacturers were already beginning to manipulate data (and lie) to make it harder to sue.
If the lawyers had been more prepared they would have tried to lock down or clean the documents, but since they didn’t these things were found.
This was in the 80’s . This was when they could still be sued. This is also when the Tennessee SIDS cluster happened and they decided to split the lots so that deaths wouldn’t happen in clusters that could be traced back to the vaccines. I’m sure you know about hot lots now.”
In 2014 alone 3,540 families were compensated through the vaccine injury compensation program for death or serious bodily harm caused by vaccines (and those are just the ones the government conceded to and not anywhere near the total cases filed.) So far in 2017 Dozens of families have won cases for over $1.4 million (keep in mind the average award is only $250,000 for a lifetime of disability)
So far in 2017 Dozens of families have won cases for over $1.4 million (keep in mind the average award is only $250,000 for a lifetime of disability)
Where is the outrage? Where are all the people screaming for the vaccine manufacturers to be held responsible?
1998: Anthrax vaccine linked to Gulf War Syndrome.
Federal regulators approved a plan by biotechnology company, VaxGen to test its experimental anthrax vaccine on about 100 people.
The human volunteers were injected with the experimental vaccine to see if it’s safe and produces the desired immune response.
VaxGen was awarded a $13.6 million federal contract to begin work on the anthrax vaccine. The company is applied for two more anthrax vaccine contracts. The contracts were awarded for advanced testing and manufacturing of 25 million doses.
In the last few years, a number of published studies have linked anthrax vaccination to the development of Gulf War Syndrome, among them a study in the British medical journal the Lancet. Hundreds of soldiers have refused the shots after evidence emerged that the vaccinations are connected to a variety of illnesses.
But then the Bush administration went on the offensive. The Pentagon funded an Institute of Medicine study which concluded in March 2002 the anthrax vaccine is safe and effective against all anthrax strains and routes of infection. Its conclusions were based on unpublished research–also funded by the Pentagon.
The story doesn’t stop there. Bioport, the nation’s sole, licensed anthrax vaccine lab has repeatedly failed FDA inspections which found among other things, contamination.
I’d rather have caught a bullet from an AK 47 than gotten injected with this stuff. At least I would have known what my fate would have been.
The FDA cleared BioPort’s manufacturing plant to begin producing the vaccine again in January 2002–months after the letters containing anthrax were sent to Congress and news organizations. Bioport was also allowed to distribute the 500,000 doses of the vaccine already in stock. The vaccine was offered to some postal workers and others who were exposed. But most refused to take it.
The anthrax vaccine is mandatory for all military service members assigned to “high-risk” areas. At least part of the six-shot series, which takes a year and a half to administer, has been given to about 700,000 service members. It will be eventually administered to all 2.5 million service members.
Since 1998, when the vaccinations began, nearly 500 active-duty service-members have refused the vaccine, and more than 100 have been court-martialed. According to government figures, approximately 500 to 1,000 pilots and flight crew members have quit, resigned or transferred from the Air National Guard or reserves rather than take the vaccine.
1998: The Rotavirus Scandal
in 1998, the US confidently included a new vaccine for rotavirus, the disease which causes serious dehydrating diarrhoea in babies, among the schedule of vaccines given to 2 month old infants. Just a year later, Wyeth Lederle Vaccines was forced to withdraw from the market its new vaccine RotaShield, when the Centres for Disease Control discovered a link between the vaccine and the development of bowel intussusception, or bowel collapse, in more than 100 infants. Of 102 cases, 29 babies required surgery and seven had bowel resections. One infant died. This for a disease that kills, at most, 20 American babies a year.
1998–2014: MMR Causes Autism
Andrew Wakefield along with 12 other MDs participating in the study, had found a link between the MMR vaccine and inflammatory bowel disease in 12 autistic children. When the children’s bowel diease was treated with conventional anti-inflammatory drugs, such as those used for Chrone’s disease, the children’s bowels recovered, and then they started speaking again! Because the government had already given the vaccine makers immunity from liability for any vaccine injury, it would have been the government who would have been sued by parents of the damaged children. That’s why there was the massive effort to discredit Dr Wakefield in any way possible. They recruited a journalist (with no medical training) to perpetuate false accusations in the press, pressured the Lancet to withdraw his paper, and pressured the U.K. medical licensing body to revoke his license to practice medicine. The Lancet even refused to publish another paper of his, totally unrelated to his MMR study, in which Dr Wakefield showed that infants who took the Hep B vaccine showed a delay in the ability to “latch” for breast-feeding, compared to a control group.
1999: Thiomersal quickly removed
The inorganic mercurial thiomersal (merthiolate) has been used as an effective preservative in numerous medical and non-medical products since the early 1930s.
After the FDA Modernization Act of 1997 mandated a review and risk assessment of all mercury-containing food and drugs, vaccine manufacturers responded to FDA requests made in December 1998 and April 1999 to provide detailed information about the thiomersal content of their preparations.
A review of the data showed that while the vaccine schedule for infants did not exceed FDA, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), or WHO guidelines on mercury exposure, it could have exceeded Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for the first six months of life, depending on the vaccine formulation and the weight of the infant.
Following a mandated review of mercury-containing food and drugs in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked vaccine makers to remove thiomersal from vaccines as quickly as possible as a precautionary measure, and it was rapidly phased out of most US and EU vaccines, but is still used in multi-dose vials of flu vaccines in both jurisdictions.
Thiomersal was replaced by Phenol
Given that phenol is considered hazardous if it comes into contact with the skin or eyes or is ingested or inhaled and has been found to have detrimental reproductive and developmental effects when given orally to lab animals and has been used as a poison to kill people, how can it be considered a safe ingredient in vaccines, even in small amounts?
2007–2019: Gardasil kills and injures thousands
By May 2007, after being on the market for less than one year, VAERS had received 2,227 reports of serious adverse events following the administration of Gardasil.
Gardasil was only tested for 6 months (instead of the usual 4 years) and was then fast-tracked by the FDA at which time, Merck stopped testing and began to market it. There is no proof that Gardasil or Cervarix prevents HPV*, however it is know to exacerbate existing HPV infections. A known side-effect is sterility. Another side-effect is death. Serious allegations against the Gardasil and Cerverix vaccine trials affecting thousands of girls have been accepted by the Supreme Court of India
2009–2010: Flu Shots Cause Fetal Death In Pregnant Women
Documentation received from the National Coalition of Organized Women (NCOW) states that between 2009 and 2010 the mercury-laden combined flu vaccinations have increased Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting Systems (VAERS) fetal death reports by 4,250 percent in pregnant women.
2009–2010 Swine Flu Pandemrix Vaccine Caused Narcolepsy And Stillbirths
In 2009 British and European children were given a rapidly approved flu vaccine during a false scare by the World Health Organisation about an alleged swine flu pandemic. The WHO’s irresponsible conduct over the scare caused a world-wide panic. Vaccine maker GlaxoSmithKline was able to fast-track the alleged swine flu vaccine called Pandemrix through the drug approvals processes effectively untested. It was to be given first in priority to children and pregnant women.
The alleged vaccine was later found to cause narcolepsy in children. It has also been associated with causing 3587 US miscarriage and stillbirths.
2009: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation kills 7 children
In a huge developing story that has been completely blacked out of the U.S. mainstream media, there is currently a case before the India Supreme Court regarding deaths and injuries occurring during drug trials carried out over Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil. Vaccine trials were conducted on thousands of girls between the ages of 9 and 15. Many of the girls fell ill, and at least 7 died, and the lawsuit is alleging that in most of these cases, the girls and their parents did not even know what kind of vaccine trial they were participating in. In 2015 a Parliamentary Committee report indicted government officials and a US agency for colluding to conduct unethical clinical trials for HPV vaccine against cervical cancer in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
March 2010: DNA from pig viruses found in Rotateq vaccine
As of yesterday, we know that DNA from two pig viruses, one of which has been linked to a wasting disease in baby pigs, has been identified in Rotateq vaccine. In addition to pig virus DNA that is not supposed to be in RotaTeq, the private lab reportedly also identified DNA fragments from a virus similar to monkey retrovirus in Rotateq.
June 2014: Medical fraud in the vaccine business
In June of 2014 HIV vaccine researcher Dong-Pyou Han confessed to fraudulently injecting samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies to make an experimental HIV vaccine appear to have great promise, and earn $19 million in grant money (funded by your tax dollars) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). — See more at: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/vaccine-scandals-and-criminal-cases-increase-in-2014/#sthash.MC3RdIR5.dpuf
2014: The CDC Whistleblower
Dr William Thompson is currently a Senior Scientist at the CDC (Center for Disease Control), whose lawyers released a statement (read full statement here) from him on August 27, 2014 which included the following:
I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.
My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe itis the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with receipt of those vaccines.
“Dr. William Thompson is an author of two of the three epidemiological studies…touted by the CDC to “prove”the safety of Thimerosal. He is also coauthor of the the CDC’s…2004 [DeStefano] study…which dismissed the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. That study has been cited in 91 subsequent published studies, and is one of the principal cornerstones for claims by the CDC and the vaccine industry that vaccines do not cause autism. Thompson now confesses that he and his fellow CDC researchers found a strong autism signal in children who received the MMR vaccine before their third birthday…Under orders from their bosses…the scientists eliminated this data from the final published study.” (Vaccine Whistleblower — Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC, by Kevin Barry, Esq., with a Foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., JD, LLM, xiv)
In calls with Dr. Brian Hooker, Dr. William Thompson admits to the widespread fraud at the CDC. The full transcripts of the conversations between Dr. Brian Hooker and Dr. William Thompson can be read in the Vaccine Whistleblower — Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC, by Kevin Barry, Esq., with a Foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., JD, LLM. To order more than 36 copies at a greatly reduced rate, email [email protected]
Congressman Bill Posey (R) is in possession of all the documents that were destroyed by the other CDC employees and went on record on the congressional floor on July 28th, 2015 demanding Dr. William Thompson be subpoenaed.
October 2014: The Kenya Sterilization Scandal
In October 2014, the conference of Catholic bishops in Kenya released a statement regarding the tetanus vaccine programme implemented under UN auspices.
Several things had alerted doctors in the Catholic Church in Kenya’s far-flung medical system of 54 hospitals, 83 health centres, and 17 medical and nursing schools to the possibility that the anti-tetanus campaign was secretly an anti-fertility campaign.
The most alarming one was that the tetanus vaccine was to be given on a five shot schedule instead of the regular three-shot one. The only time tetanus vaccine has been given in five doses is when it is used as a carrier in fertility regulating vaccines laced with the pregnancy hormone, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) developed by WHO in 1992.
The Kenya Catholic Doctors Association, however, saw evidence to the contrary, and had six different samples of the tetanus vaccine from various locations around Kenya sent to an independent laboratory in South Africa for testing.
The results confirmed their worst fears: all six samples tested positive for the HCG antigen. The HCG antigen is used in anti-fertility vaccines, but was found present in tetanus vaccines targeted to young girls and women of childbearing age.
The administered to 2.3 million girls and women by the World Health Organization and UNICEF
Why Do We Forget Pandemics?
April 26, 2021
Medical men wearing masks at a US Army hospital in Fort Porter, N.Y., during the 1918-19 “Spanish” Influenza pandemic. (Everett Collection)
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The second Moderna shot made me sick—as predicted. A 24-hour touch of what an alarmed immune system feels like left me all the more grateful for my good fortune in avoiding the real thing and for being alive at a time when science had devised a 95 percent effective vaccine in record time.
To distract myself from the fever as I tried to sleep, I visualized strands of synthetic messenger RNA floating into my cells to produce the alien spike protein that attracted my warrior T-cells. I drifted off envisioning an epic micro-battle underway in my blood and had a series of weird nightmares. At about 2 am, I woke up sweating, disoriented, and fixated on a grim image from one of the studies I had consulted while writing my own upcoming book, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America’s Response to the Pandemic, on the Covid-19 chaos of our moment. In his Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver, Arthur Allen described how, in the days of ignorance—not so very long ago—doctors prescribed “hot air baths” for the feverish victims of deadly epidemics of smallpox or yellow fever, clamping them under woolen covers in closed rooms with the windows shut.
Mildly claustrophobic in the best of times, my mind then scrabbled to other forms of medical persecution I’d recently learned about. In the American colonies of the early eighteenth century, for example, whether or not to take the Jenner cowpox vaccine was a matter of religious concern. Puritans were taught that they would interfere with God’s will if they altered disease outcomes. To expiate that sin, or more likely out of sheer ignorance, medical doctors of the day decreed that the vaccine would only work after weeks of purging, including ingesting mercury, which besides making people drool and have diarrhea, also loosened their teeth. “Inoculation meant three weeks of daily vomiting, purges, sweats, fevers,” Allen wrote.
To clear my thoughts, to forget, I opened my window, let in the winter air, and breathed deep. I then leaned out into the clean black sky of the pandemic months, the starlight brighter since the jets stopped flying and we ceased driving, as well as burning so much coal.
Silence. An inkling of what the world might be like without us.
Chilled, I lay back down and wondered: What will the future think of us in this time? Will people recoil in horror as I had just done in recalling, in feverish technicolor, the medically ignorant generations that came before us?
The Glorious Dead
When America reached the half-million-dead mark from Covid-19 at the end of February, reports compared the number to our war dead. The pandemic had by then killed more Americans than had died in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined—and it wasn’t done with us yet. But the Covid dead had not marched into battle. They had gone off to their jobs as bus drivers and nurses and store clerks, or hugged a grandchild, or been too close to a health-care worker who arrived at a nursing home via the subway.
Every November 11th, on Veterans Day, our world still remembers and celebrates the moment World War I officially ended. But the last great pandemic, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 that became known as “the Spanish flu” (though it wasn’t faintly Spain’s fault, since it probably began in the United States), which infected half a billion people on a far less populated planet, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million of them—including more soldiers than were slaughtered in that monumental war—fell into a collective memory hole.
When it was over, our grandparents and great-grandparents turned away and didn’t look back. They simply dropped it from memory. Donald Trump’s grandfather’s death from the Spanish flu in 1919 changed the fortunes of his family forever, yet Trump never spoke of it—even while confronting a similar natural disaster. Such a forgetting wasn’t just Trumpian aberrance it was a cultural phenomenon.
That virus, unlike Covid-19, mainly killed young healthy people. But there are eerie, even uncanny, similarities between the American experience of that pandemic and this one. In the summer of 1919, just after the third deadly wave, American cities erupted in race riots. As with the summer of 2020, the 1919 riots were sparked by an incident in the Midwest: a Chicago mob stoned a black teenager who dared to swim off a Lake Michigan beach whites had unofficially declared whites-only. The boy drowned and, in the ensuing week of rioting, 23 blacks and 15 whites died. The riots spread across the country to Washington, D.C., and cities in Nebraska, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, with Black veterans who had served in World War I returning home to second-class treatment and an increase in Ku Klux Klan lynchings.
As today, there were similar controversies then over the wearing of masks and not gathering in significant numbers to celebrate Thanksgiving. As in 2020-2021, so in 1918-1919, frontline medics were traumatized. The virus killed within hours or a few days in a particularly lurid way. People bled from their noses, mouths, and ears, then drowned in the fluid that so copiously built up in their lungs. The mattresses on which they perished were soaked in blood and other bodily fluids.
Doctors and nurses could do nothing but bear witness to the suffering, much like the front-liners in Wuhan and then New York City in the coronavirus pandemic’s early days. Unlike today, perhaps because it was wartime and any display of weakness was considered bad, the newspapers of the time also barely covered the suffering of individuals, according to Alex Navarro, editor in chief of the University of Michigan’s Influenza Encyclopedia about the 1918 pandemic. Strangely enough, even medical books in the following years barely covered the virus.
Medical anthropologist Martha Louise Lincoln believes the tendency to look forward—and away from disaster—is also an American trait. “Collectively, we obviously wrongly shared a feeling that Americans would be fine,” Lincoln said of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think that’s in part because of the way we’re conditioned to remember history.… Even though American history is full of painful losses, we don’t take them in.”
Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland argues that pandemic forgetting is a human response to seemingly pointless loss, as opposed to a soldier’s death. “A mass illness does not invite that kind of remembering,” he wrote. “The bereaved cannot console themselves that the dead made a sacrifice for some higher cause, or even that they were victims of an epic moral event, because they did not and were not.”
Instead, to die of Covid-19 is just rotten luck, something for all of us to forget.
Who Will Ask Rich Men to Sacrifice?
Given the absence of dead heroes and a certain all-American resistance to pointless tragedy, there are other reasons we, as Americans, might not look back to 2020 and this year as well. For one thing, pandemic profiteering was so gross and widespread that to consider it closely, even in retrospect, might lead to demands for wholesale change that no one in authority, no one in this (or possibly any other recent US government) would be prepared or motivated to undertake.
In just the pandemic year 2020, this country’s billionaires managed to add at least a trillion dollars to their already sizeble wealth in a land of ever more grotesque inequality. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos alone packed in another $70 billion that year, while so many other Americans were locked down and draining savings or unemployment funds. The CEOs of the companies that produced the medical milestone mRNA vaccines reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by timing stock moves to press releases about vaccine efficacy.
No one today dares ask such rich men to sacrifice for the rest of us or for the rest of the world.
The pandemic might, of course, have offered an opportunity for the government and corporate leaders to reconsider the shareholder model of for-profit medicine. Instead, taxpayer money continued to flow in staggering quantities to a small group of capitalists with almost no strings attached and little transparency.
A nation brought to its knees may not have the resources, let alone the will, to accurately remember how it all happened. Congress is now investigating some of the Trump administration’s pandemic deals. The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis has uncovered clear evidence of its attempts to cook and politicize data. And Senator Elizabeth Warren led somewhat fruitful efforts to expose deals between the Trump administration and a small number of health-care companies. But sorting through the chaos of capitalist mischief as the pandemic hit, all those no-bid contracts cut without agency oversight, with nothing more than a White House stamp of approval affixed to them, will undoubtedly prove an Augean stables of a task.
In addition, looking too closely at the tsunami of money poured into Big Pharma that ultimately did produce effective vaccines could well seem churlish in retrospect. The very success of the vaccines may blunt the memory of that other overwhelming effect of the pandemic, which was to blow a hole in America’s already faded reputation as a health-care leader and as a society in which equality (financial or otherwise) meant anything at all.
Forgetting might prove all too comfortable, even if remembering could prompt a rebalancing of priorities from, for instance, the military-industrial complex, which has received somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent of the US discretionary budget over the last half century, to public health, which got 3 percent to 6 percent of that budget in those same years.
The Most Medically Protected Generation
For most Americans, the history of the 1918 flu shares space in that ever-larger tomb of oblivion with the history of other diseases of our great-grandparents’ time that vaccines have now eradicated.
Until the twentieth century, very few people survived childhood without either witnessing or actually suffering from the agonies inflicted by infectious diseases. Parents routinely lost children to disease people regularly died at home. Survivors—our great-grandparents—were intimately acquainted with the sights, smells, and sounds associated with the stages of death.
Viewed from above, vaccines are a massive success story. They’ve been helping us live longer and in states of safety that would have been unimaginable little more than a century ago. In 1900, US life expectancy was 46 years for men and 48 for women. Someone born in 2019 can expect to live to between 75 and 80 years old, although due to health inequities, lifespans vary depending on race, ethnicity, and gender.
The scale of change has been dramatic, but it can be hard to see. We belong to the most medically protected generation in human history and that protection has made us both complacent and risk averse.
The history of twentieth-century vaccine developments has long seesawed between remarkable advances in medical science and conspiracy theories and distrust engendered by its accidents or failures. Almost every new vaccine has been accompanied by reports of risks, side effects, and sometimes terrible accidents, at least one involving tens of thousands of sickened people.
Children, however, are now successfully jabbed with serums that create antibodies to hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis—all diseases that well into the twentieth century spread through communities, killing babies or permanently damaging health. A number of those are diseases that today’s parents can barely pronounce, let alone remember.
Remembering Is the Way Forward
The catastrophe of the Spanish flu globally and in this country (where perhaps 675,000 Americans were estimated to have died from it) had, until Covid-19 came along, been dropped in a remarkable manner from American memory and history. It lacked memorial plaques or a day of remembrance, though it did leave a modest mark on literature. Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter’s elegiac short story, for instance, focused on how the flu extinguished a brief wartime love affair between two young people in New York City.
We are very likely to overcome the virus at some point in the not-too-distant future. As hard as it might be to imagine right now, the menace that shut down the world will, in the coming years, undoubtedly be brought to heel by vaccines on a planetary scale.
And in this, we’ve been very, very lucky. Covid-19 is relatively benign compared with an emergent virus with the death rates of a MERS or Ebola or even, it seems, that 1918 flu. As a species, we will survive this one. It’s been bad—it still is, with cases and hospitalizations remaining on the rise in parts of this country—but it could have been so much worse. Sociologist and writer Zeynep Tufekci has termed it “a starter pandemic.” There’s probably worse ahead in a planet that’s under incredible stress in so many different ways.
Under the circumstances, it’s important that we not drop this pandemic from memory as we did the 1918 one. We should remember this moment and what it feels like because the number of pathogens waiting to jump from mammals to us is believed to be alarmingly large. Worse yet, modern human activity has made us potentially more, not less, vulnerable to another pandemic. A University of Liverpool study published in February 2021 found at least 40 times more mammal species could be infected with coronavirus strains than were previously known. Such a virus could easily recombine with any of them and then be passed on to humanity, a fact researchers deemed an immediate public health threat.
In reality, we may be entering a new “era of pandemics.” So suggests a study produced during an “urgent virtual workshop” convened in October 2020 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ISPBES) to investigate the links between the risk of pandemics and the degradation of nature. Due to climate change, intense agriculture, unsustainable trade, the misuse of land, and nature-disrupting production and consumption habits, more than five new infectious diseases emerge in people every year, any one of which could potentially spark a pandemic.
That ISPBES study predicted that “future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy, and kill more people than Covid-19, unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.”
Is our species capable of such a change? My inner misanthrope says no, but certainly the odds improve if we don’t delete this pandemic from history like the last one. This, after all, is the first pandemic in which the Internet enabled us to bear witness not only to the panic, illness, and deaths around us, but to the suffering of our entire species in every part of the globe in real time. Because of that alone, it will be difficult to evade the memory of this collective experience and, with it, the reminder that we are all made of the same vulnerable stuff.
Nina Burleigh Nina Burleigh is a journalist who has covered stories in most of the contiguous states, Italy, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as the author of seven books, most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic.
The History of the Forgotten Pandemic
In spring 1957, tens of thousands of refugees in Hong Kong fell ill with a novel strain of the flu. The virus would spread around the world, the first global outbreak since the 1918 flu pandemic and the first test of a fledgling early warning system. More than one million people died, 116,000 of them in the United States. But schooling, shopping, and sporting events went on as normal, and the pandemic has largely faded from public memory.
A nurse at Montefiore Hospital in New York City receives a flu vaccination in 1957. Photo: Everett Collection Historical/Alamy Stock Photo.
On April 17, 1957, the first news of a flu outbreak in Hong Kong reached an American audience, when a single column of news appeared in the New York Times on the international page. Amidst dispatches from Turkey, the UK, Greece, and Sweden, and ads for men’s tropical worsted suits and women’s silk blouses, was the headline “Hong Kong Battling Influenza Epidemic.”
Thousands of people were lining up for treatment at clinics across the British colony, many of them “refugees from Communist China.” Mothers carried their “glassy-eyed” children on their backs. Some 250,000 people were sick—about 10% of Hong Kong’s population. Officials worried that overcrowded conditions among the city’s 700,000 refugees would lead to calamity.
Epidemiologists around the world looked at Hong Kong with a sense of dread. The outbreak had happened unnervingly fast, indicating that this flu virus was unusually infectious. And while there had been small regional outbreaks of flu since the 1918 pandemic that killed perhaps 40 million people worldwide, no single pathogen had swept the world.
From our vantage point in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response to the 1957 flu is illuminating of the critical turning points that determine how a disease spreads and how it ultimately impacts society. It forced officials to make hard decisions balancing public health and potential disruption to daily life. It was the first test of a new early warning system for global outbreaks, and the first pandemic that was battled in real time with a newly developed vaccine.
The seeds of that response were planted during World War II, when the U.S. military formed a Commission on Influenzae, recruiting leading researchers from universities and hospitals. Out of that effort came the first flu vaccine, developed by Thomas Francis and Jonas Salk (Salk famously went on to develop the polio vaccine in 1952). Soldiers got the first flu shots.
In 1948, the World Health Organization established the Worldwide Influenza Centre in London at the National Institute for Medical Research—where the flu virus was first identified, in 1933—and four years later launched the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), a network of 26 laboratories around the world tasked with monitoring flu evolution. And just a year before the outbreak, in 1956, the Influenza Branch of the CDC, which was only about a decade old, became a WHO Collaborating Centre for Surveillance, Epidemiology & Control of Influenza.
These systems weren’t really challenged until the flu pandemic of 1957. Experts saw the pandemic coming, and attempted to mobilize in response. But while the skeletal framework for coordinated action may have been in place, it lacked connective tissue. Samples sent from Hong Kong to the WHO in London, for example, weren’t immediately analyzed, frustrating the researchers who’d sent them.
The 1957 pandemic has largely faded from public memory. One reason may be that while many died, its mortality rate was low. It’s classified as a Category 2 pandemic—one step more severe than the seasonal flu and swine flu. (The 1918 pandemic is a Category 5. Based on its mortality rate so far, COVID-19 would be a Category 3 or 4.)
Another reason that the pandemic is forgotten may be that it struck a society more accustomed to contagious disease than we are antibiotics and vaccines were only beginning to become more widely available as tools of public health. Moreover, even as millions became ill and thousands died, travel, school, shopping and sporting events mostly went on as normal.
In spring 1957, as the novel H2N2 virus spread through eastern Asia, American sailors in the Pacific began to get sick. The virus spread through the close quarters of ships and then military bases in Japan and Korea. Doctors had sailors gargle with a throat-wash and took samples of their blood, some of which they bottled and sent to the U.S. One of those who requested viral samples was Maurice Hilleman, the chief of respiratory diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. Hilleman would go on to invent more than 40 vaccines over the course of his career.
While researchers were relieved to realize that they weren’t facing the same strain as the one that caused the 1918 pandemic, they were also alarmed that they had a novel strain on their hands.
Hilleman ignored federal regulations and called six vaccine manufacturers directly, advising them, “Don’t kill your roosters.” Vaccines were produced in fertilized eggs with millions of doses to be developed, they were going to need a lot of eggs. He shipped viral samples to all six so they could get started. They promised to provide 60 million doses by February 1, 1958.
He also issued a press release from Walter Reed, warning that a flu pandemic would hit in the fall just as the new school year started.
But the flu didn’t wait for fall. By June, it had spread to 20 countries, including the U.S., where it landed on military bases first. An aircraft vessel parked at a port in southern California saw 157 crew admitted to sick bay in just two weeks. And at a naval base in San Diego, 70% of the recruits got sick. Soon there were 10,000 cases on West Coast bases alone. Across the country, at a port in Rhode Island, the flu swept through the quarters of seven destroyers.
In early June, hundreds of teenage girls attended a Girls State government event at the campus of the University of California, Davis. Soon enough, more than 200 of them began to shiver and burn in their dorm rooms.
“The girls feel rough for about a day as their temperatures go up to 103 and 104 but after that they snap right out of it,” the Girls State program director told a local paper. The young attendees were fine—but a 57-year-old advisor died.
One of the girls didn’t show any flu symptoms until she was on a train to Iowa with about a hundred other Californians. They were headed to an international church conference at a college in Ames with about 1,700 participants. The group was split up and housed all over campus, and soon other conference attendees fell ill. So many people were infected that the organizers cancelled the conference and sent everyone home—where they subsequently passed on the virus to others.
By mid-July, the virus’s spread in the U.S. was pretty well known by both the public and by health authorities. The CDC had created an Influenza Surveillance Unit in response, and were receiving weekly health reports from counties across the country. It also conducted a weekly national health phone survey of 2,000 persons in 700 households. Cases of people who’d spent at least a day in bed with an upper respiratory infection were flagged and sent to the CDC. Both methods documented that a pandemic was indeed underway.
And yet in mid July, nearly a thousand kids from California packed onto a weeklong cross-country train to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. They were headed to the fourth annual Boy Scouts Jamboree, where 52,580 kids from 43 countries were going to bunk for a week in hundreds of tents sprawled across the Revolutionary War battlefield. Vice President Richard Nixon would greet them when they arrived, and musician Jimmy Dean—better known today for his breakfast sausages—would entertain them with his band, the Harmonica Rascals.
On the train, dozens of scouts came down with body aches, sore throats, fevers, and fatigue. Troop leaders alerted the event organizers. But instead of turning the kids back, the organizers decided to let them stay, segregating the boys in an isolated area of the park. The CDC and Pennsylvania public health officials also set up an infirmary tent for suspected flu cases.
Amazingly, there wasn’t a massive outbreak at the jamboree, but enough boys got infected that they became disease vectors when they returned to their hometowns. Multiple clusters of cases would eventually be traced back to the event, including a flu outbreak resulting from the 18 scouts who brought the virus back to Jackson, Mississippi.
Similar scenes repeated throughout the summer. One outbreak in northeast Louisiana came as schools opened in July to make up for lost classroom time in the spring, when the students harvested strawberries. Cases exploded by early August, forcing 10 schools to shut down. Nevertheless, the disease spread across Louisiana and into Mississippi.
And yet the 1957 outbreak hadn’t proved to be particularly fatal. “Most of the deaths have occurred among persons already weakened by chronic disease, old age, or hunger,” the United Press reported in late June. “The great majority of patients recover after three or four days of fever and malaise.”
“The probability of another 1918 is slight,” Carl Bauer, an influenza expert with the U.S. Public Health Service, told the UP, “but we cannot assume it is an impossibility.”
A Voluntary Allocation Plan
Even as cases ebbed in mid August, public health officials worried whether the big hit would come in September, as Hilleman had predicted, or early winter, as was typical. Anticipating the former scenario, the CDC had done intensive contract tracing in Louisiana to understand how the pandemic might play out as kids returned to school.
The surgeon general, Leroy Burney, directed that vaccine doses should be allotted to states based on population size. Soon after, public health experts from the USPHS came together in Washington, D.C., to figure out how to get the vaccine out.
They developed a “voluntary allocation” plan with vaccine manufacturers that would distribute the shots through the free market. There would be no central federal management. In theory, it was to be an equitable distribution. But as historian George Dehner writes in Influenza: A Century of Science and Public Health Response, pharmaceutical companies had already taken vaccine preorders from corporate clients such as Ford and AT&T. One pharma executive said the companies “would need to be considered in any allocation plan.”
The military had claimed the first 2.6 million doses sailors and soldiers began to receive inoculations in August. Vulnerable populations, healthcare workers, and essential transportation, communications, and utility employees were next on the list they needed 12 million doses. Officials launched a promotional campaign to encourage all Americans to get the vaccine once it became more widely available.
Sidelining Football Season
When schools opened in early September, flu cases exploded across the country. Schools were often the source. Kids were more susceptible than adults to H2N2 unlike COVID, the virus was less likely to infect people over age 60. Student absentee rates ranged from 30 to 60% in many communities. In New York City, tens of thousands of kids were out sick at once. But schools remained open. A health commissioner in Nassau County, New York, explained the rationale: “Children would get sick just as easily out of school.” Adults missed work at a much lower rate, but some stayed home. In hard-hit New York City, the subway system lost $1 million in revenue as sick riders skipped the commute.
By late September, few vaccine doses were available compared to the size of the outbreak. The American Medical Association charged that doses were going to corporate executives rather than doctors’ patients. There were reports that football players for the San Francisco 49ers got shots but cops and firefighters didn’t.
According to Dehner, a pharma sales manager summed up the problem this way: “You got 25 people wanting apples and you only got one apple. So who gets the apple? The guy who has his hand out first.”
Public health officials monitored the outbreak but believed that “efforts to contain it were futile,” scholars at the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center wrote in a 2009 paper. Rather than quarantining the infected, cancelling large events, or limiting travel, they stressed keeping the sick at home. Sick people inundated clinics, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, but few of them needed to be hospitalized.
So normal life continued—and people got ill. By October, more than half of the counties in the U.S. had an outbreak. College football games across the country—Western Michigan vs. Colorado State, Lehigh vs. Rutgers, Navy vs. Yale, and many others—were cancelled because too many players were sick.
The cancellations coincided with the pandemic’s peak. That’s also when vaccines started to become more broadly available. But they were less than 60% effective, and they took two weeks to have a protective effect. Moreover, skeptics claimed the vaccine was worse than the disease, and some critics said the government’s vaccine promotion was a scheme to increase sales, Dehner writes.
In November, infection rates began to drop all over the country. By then, 53 million vaccine doses had been released, but the demand was low. Vaccine manufacturers sold some of it overseas, but as much as half of it was eventually returned to them, unused, according to Hillman.
At sea, it was a different story. The Pacific ships that had been struck down in the summer suffered another round of infection in November, even though their crews had been vaccinated. Sailors on two naval vessels became ill after visiting ports in Japan, which was having a major outbreak. Two more ships were stricken after visiting ports in the Philippines.
Back in the U.S., the worst of the pandemic was over. But Christmas spending was muted. A nationwide poll found that nearly half of people said they had less money because of the pandemic.
Mysterious Deaths in Winter ’58
Infection rates remained low throughout the winter of 1958, and yet death rates increased, puzzling public health officials. The CDC’s chief epidemiologist suspected it was the result of small, sporadic outbreaks that flew under the radar.
By spring, the pandemic was largely over. It’s not quite accurate to say that life returned to normal in 1958, because life had remained mostly normal. The death rate had been low, many of the cases had been mild, and there had been virtually no restrictions on daily life.
As a Pomona county health officer put it in February 1958, “The approach of the influenza pandemic across the Pacific was so well heralded that the first wave of the disorder was something of an anticlimax for many people—especially for those who missed getting it.”
And yet, H2N2 caused about 1.1 million deaths around the world in 1957–58. As many as 116,000 of them occurred in the U.S. In 1958, Met Life statisticians calculated that it had lowered the average life expectancy in the U.S. by 3.6 months, from an all-time high of 70.2 to 69.9.
Though the vaccine came too late to have much of an impact on the 1957 pandemic, its relatively fast development set a new bar—one that would be surpassed in 1968, which saw another flu pandemic that began in Hong Kong. That vaccine was ready in 66 days.
Have Americans forgotten the history of this deadly flu?
In autumn of 1918, the largest military offensive in American history was raging on Europe’s Western Front. The battle concluded on Nov. 11, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany was signed, ending what was known as the Great War.
But more U.S. soldiers died of disease (63,114), primarily from the Spanish flu, than in combat (53,402).
Overall, 675,000 Americans were killed by the Spanish flu. This number surpasses the total of U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War combined. Current day estimates put the death toll from the 1918-1919 outbreak of the Spanish flu between 80 to 100 million worldwide.
This “twin catastrophe” was not coincidental, author Kenneth C. Davis writes in his book, “More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War.
“Refugees crowding cities, malnutrition, and shortages of doctors, nurses, and effective medications all contributed to the pandemic’s rapid spread and high rates of death,” Davis writes. “But it was the movement of troops — with men crowded together in barracks, tents, and trenches and jammed onto railroad trains and ocean-going troop transports — that was most responsible for the spread of the Spanish flu.”
In an interview with the PBS NewsHour, Davis, author of the ”Don’t Know Much About” series, discussed the importance of knowing this history. The conversation has been edited for length.
You write in your book, “While many schoolbooks and historians tend to focus on great battles and the military decisions of kings and generals, history’s greatest killers have been the tiniest foes.” What made the Spanish flu so deadly 100 years ago?
Because military men were sent overseas, or sailors were sent from one port to another, the flu quickly spread across the U.S., after the first outbreak at Fort Riley in Kansas.
Even as the last 100 days of the war were being fought, in eventually what became the greatest military offensive in American military history — the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of September into November of 1918 — the flu continued to strike.
It was sudden, it was violent. It was virulent. It was very deadly. And what was most unusual about it was that it seemed to strike healthy young people, young soldiers in particular.
A French trench at Verdun in 1916. The Spanish flu was able to spread quickly due to trench warfare used in World War I. Trenches were often cold, rat-infested, filled with lice and muddy.
Why do more Americans not know this part of our history?
In World War I, we talk about the battles and the peace treaties and the numbers lost, but the Spanish flu aspect of it has really been buried and hidden in history. I think that’s not only dangerous, it’s sad, because it’s such a fascinating and compelling story, and one that we can really learn lessons from.
It’s particularly complicated by the fact that so many people who lived through the Spanish flu didn’t want to talk about it or remember it — even some of the doctors who were on the front lines of trying to figure out this medical mystery of what was killing so many people, so quickly and so violently. The fact that it was really concentrated in troops is what underpins this idea that the war and the flu are inseparable.
I’ve heard historians say that Americans don’t like to focus on events where there’s not a clear enemy. It’s easier to come together to fight Germans in World War I than to battle a bacterium. Do you agree?
I think it makes it all the more human and fascinating to connect things like disease to history and the fact that, for instance, during the American Revolution more people died of smallpox than died fighting the American Revolution. But we don’t think about it. You know that that was a factor, not only in the war, but certainly in some senses in George Washington’s own decision-making — who, by the way, suffered from smallpox as a teenager and fortunately survived it.
The building of the Panama Canal couldn’t have happened without understanding what yellow fever was, which really came out of the Spanish-American War. A man named William Gorgas oversaw the end of yellow fever essentially in Cuba and did the same thing in the building of the Panama Canal. Gorgas’ name comes up in my book, because he was the surgeon general during World War I and during the Spanish flu epidemic. So, he saw first-hand how deadly disease could be to troops in the field.
A sign warning about Spanish Influenza at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 19, 1918. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center
An interesting aspect you explore is how African-American soldiers were somewhat spared the flu in part because of Jim Crow and segregated hospitals. How did race factor into the story?
The Spanish flu affected every community on Earth without question. Some groups fared much worse than others. We know, for instance, the death rate in Alaska was much much higher. A small village of 78 people lost 70 people within three or four days of the flu’s arrival. That’s an astonishing mortality rate, of course. India lost perhaps 18 to 20 million people. We’re talking about a virus that killed perhaps 100 million people worldwide in the space of about a year — 5 percent of the world’s population at the time. It’s an extraordinary number. It’s an unthinkable number to us today.
In the United States, there’s a little difficulty in tracking the effect on African-American communities because record-keeping was poor in some cases. Jim Crow was not just something that happened south of the Mason Dixon line. Jim Crow was an American institution. So African Americans in 1918 received substandard care, and had fewer choices in terms of being cared for in a hospital. Where they were admitted into hospitals they were often put into segregated wards sometimes a segregated ward meant a basement or a closet somewhere. So that’s part of our history as well.
Aileen Cole, at far left, and the other eight nurses outside their quarters at Camp Sherman, 1918. During World War I, about 90 African-American nurses were certified by the Red Cross and then recruited for duty with the military. Cole made history as one of the first black nurses in the military’s Army Nursing Corps once she transferred to military service. Photo courtesy Armed Forces Institute of Pathology
Another wonderful example of that is a story I tell of a group of African-American nurses. The Army did not want their services … until they needed them. And then they were allowed to treat soldiers and civilians, but they were still segregated in their own barracks.
To be honest, we can’t really talk about history without talking about race, because it has affected every aspect of our history from the beginning of the republic and well before it. The hundreds of years of slavery and the institution of slavery and what it wrought in this country in terms of racism factor into almost every discussion we have of American history. It’s just that simple. And so I could not write a book about the American Spanish flu experience without discussing the fact that race entered into it.
Did you think a lot about whether this could happen today, a pandemic like the Spanish flu?
Could this happen again? The answer is, of course. And I’m sure there are people at the CDC who probably have nightmares about this. But we are much better prepared than we were 100 years ago. We would possibly have a vaccine that would work against such a virus, if it were identified and produced in massive numbers quickly enough.
Overcrowded hospital cots at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, where the Spanish flu epidemic began in 1918.
We have erected enormous guardrails around the world through international cooperation, the World Health Organization, perhaps one of the most effective parts of the United Nations. Those guardrails are weakened when we deny science, when we ignore sound medical advice for short-term political considerations.
Those things all factored into the spread of the Spanish flu 100 years ago, and those are things that could happen again today, if we weaken our defenses at the CDC, if we weaken our defenses in terms of cooperating with foreign governments about sharing information about viruses. So, I’m not an alarmist, but I think one should be seriously concerned that an outbreak of a virus on the scale of the Spanish flu virus would be far more devastating than a terrorist attack.
Alaska Native children from the remote village of Nushagak survived the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic. Most of their parents and grandparents died of the virus, likely because they had not been exposed to an earlier H1-like influenza virus as a result of their geographic isolation. Photo courtesy of Alaska State Library
Left: Members of the St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty on five ambulances during the 1918 flu pandemic. Via Library of Congress
IDAHO AND THE BOISE VALLEY
“When your head is blazing, burning / And your brain within is turning / Into buttermilk from churning / It’s the Flu,” wrote a poet in Idaho Falls. “When your stomach grows uneasy / quaking, querulous, and queasy / All dyspeptic and diseasy / It’s the Flu.”
But Boise doctors remained unconcerned through the summer of 1918. Dr. William Brady, the Statesman’s medical columnist, predicted the virus would be no worse than others that regularly crossed the Atlantic. “Avoid worry,” said another physician. Westerners were said to be hardy enough to stand tall against influenza. And people who lived in cities, it was said, had resistance to diseases spread in a crowd. Fresh air and exercise were recommended. A Boise Rexall prescribed a flu regimen of iron pills, hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic gargle and cod liver oil.
Tunnel vision on the war in Europe kept the disease from Boise’s headlines. “FRENCH TROOPS HOLD OFF HUNS” was the Statesman headline on October 2, 1918, when the killer struck Caldwell and Star. Fifteen people from six families had visited with an infected friend from Missouri. All were quarantined after reporting dangerous symptoms. Olive Michel Shawver of N. 22nd Street had the sad misfortune of being the City of Boise’s first reported victim. On October 15, she was confined to her North End home.
By mid-October the mayor of Boise had joined the Red Cross and the U.S. Public Health Service to ban meetings in public places, closing churches, theaters, pool halls, dance halls, courtrooms, cigar shops and funeral homes. Boise schools mostly stayed open. In Kimberly, Idaho, nevertheless, city officials refused to let Boise-bound travelers step off the train. Deputies in Custer County guarded the mountain passes, arresting travelers or turning them back at gunpoint.
Boise Public Library. The Boise School Board downplayed the threat as troops returned to Boise and the virus continued to spread. Pictured: Statesman headlines, October 15, 1918.
Idaho’s Native Americans grieved some of the pandemic’s worst devastation. In 1918, of the 4,200 natives in Idaho, there were 650 documented cases of flu. Seventy-five died from flu-related heart failure and suffocation. In Nez Perce, a town of about 600 on the tribe’s reservation, health officials estimated 300 cases.
Mormon communities received aid from Utah when the third wave materialized. The city of Paris in Bear Lake County may have lost as many as 500 people — a mortality rate of 50 percent.
Boise, meanwhile, was ill-equipped as any Western city. Boise’s Red Cross offered $75 (per month, presumably) and all travel expenses to lure experienced nurses. Gloves on their hands, gauze on their faces, the nurses delivered hot meals from sanitary community kitchens. Trolley conductors with police power had orders to prevent passengers from spitting or placing their feet on the seats.
Tunnel vision on the war in Europe continued to dominate Boise headlines through October of 1918 as Germany capitulated. On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, Boiseans flooded the Idaho Statehouse to hear Governor Moses Alexander proclaim the United States’ moment of triumph. A parade — fever-be-dammed — erupted on Boise’s Main Street. “Ten thousand yelling, shooting, screeching, tooting, routing, laughing, talking citizens of Boise parade the streets,” the Statesman reported. A band played “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” A small boy milked laughs with a sign: “The Kaiser has got the flu. He has flown.” The flu, aside from that sign, seemed to be largely forgotten. No health department official dared to stop the celebration. The Statesman reported that only one Boisean at the victory party had worn a surgical mask.
No one remembers whether or not the parade spread the infection. Medical records are sketchy. Brigham Young University has since compiled a “death index” of Idaho fatalities. From October through February, 1918-1919, the index reports 279 deaths in Boise. Influenza or flu is listed as the cause of death in 75 of those cases, more than half of them young adults. Flu-like pneumonia is listed as a cause of death in 60 additional cases.
But if Boise followed the pattern of other American cities, the pandemic of 1918 was dangerously underreported. Hospitals often refused to admit what seemed to be mild cases. And because the virus came in waves with ever-more deadly mutations, there was no standard diagnostic test.
Local resentment of state officials may have also blurred the reporting. On October 20, 1918, for example, state health officials denounced “unpatriotic” physicians who refused to keep careful statistics. One of the accused was Dr. George Collister, the founder of a subdivision. Officials alleged that Collister had failed to quarantine 32 Basques in their Grove Street rooming house. In 1920, the state’s Department of Public Welfare reported in frustration that half of Idaho’s counties had refused to fill out reports.
And then, inexplicably, the virus subsided. In January 1919, even as influenza rebounded elsewhere, state legislators returned to Boise to ratify the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the sale and consumption of demonic alcohol. Theaters had already reopened and, on January 19, the Statesman headlined “SCHOOLS FREE OF DISEASE.” Boise flu cases had fallen below 600. By February the phantom was gone.
What 1918’s “Forgotten Pandemic” Can Teach Us About Today
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Red Cross volunteers fighting against the spanish flu in 1918. From Apic/Getty Images.
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When I visit my grandchildren, I wave through the window but I don’t go inside. It breaks my heart not being able to hug and kiss them—but at least we can FaceTime later. During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, nobody even had that.
As a novelist who recently spent two years researching and fully immersed in the lives of everyday people during the 1918 pandemic, it’s impossible not to compare that crisis to today’s.
Before I began my research, I knew little about the Spanish flu until a reader told me about the nurses who visited the sick at that time, many of whom found entire families dead, or both parents deceased and the children starving. I was shocked to learn that the Spanish flu infected roughly one third of the planet’s population and killed an estimated 50 million people over the course of two years, with a particularly cruel wave during the fall of 1918. Some estimates say the virus killed twice that many.
Death was quick, savage, and terrifying. The virus turned victims bluish-black, and drowned them with their own body fluids. The victims would be fine one minute and incapacitated and delirious the next, with fevers rising to 104 to 106 degrees. The poor suffered the worst, with the largest loss of life happening in the slums and tenement districts of large cities, but it also infected Walt Disney—then a teenager training with the Red Cross in Chicago—and killed Donald Trump’s grandfather.
When the flu hit in 1918, some newspapers reported that influenza posed no danger because it was as old as history, the kind of thing that was usually accompanied by foul air, fog, and plagues of insects. Advice to citizens for preventing illness included keeping their feet dry, staying warm, eating more onions, and keeping their bowels and windows open. Phonographs were advertised as machines guaranteed to drive away influenza, because by passing the time listening to records, you’d never know you had to stay home at night. Even more curious were some of the remedies used: garlic and camphor balls wrapped in cheesecloth and tied around the necks sugar cubes soaked in kerosene formaldehyde tablets, morphine, laudanum, and chloride of lime. Whiskey and Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup—which contained morphine, alcohol, ammonia—were even given to babies and children. The American Medical Association called the syrup a “baby killer” in 1911, but it wasn’t removed from the market until the 1930s.
World War I was still ongoing, and wartime restrictions on communication had deadly effects. There were limits on writing or publishing anything negative about the country, and posters asked the public to “report the man who spreads pessimistic stories.” In Philadelphia, doctors convinced reporters to write about the risk posed to the public by the Liberty Loan parade on September 28, which would gather thousands of people who could potentially spread the flu. Editors refused to run the stories, or any letters from the doctors. More than 20,000 Phildelphians later died of the flu.
In some cities, it wasn’t long before hospitals and morgues became overcrowded, with bodies piling up by the dozens, and many left for days in the streets. Hospitals were forced to turn large numbers of the sick away and carts traveled the streets and alleys, their drivers calling for people to bring out their dead. Makeshift morgues were established to deal with the deluge of corpses. Relatives were persuaded to give up their loved ones with promises that the bodies would later be retrieved and reinterred, but most were never recovered. Parish houses and armories were turned into makeshift infirmaries, and with the shortage of medical staff due to the war, volunteers were called from religious and civic organizations, and medical and nursing schools. Any of the preventive measures used back then are also being used today. In what we now call social distancing or sheltering in place, people were told to stay home and to keep away from crowds.
Posters went up that read: “When obliged to cough or sneeze, always place a handkerchief, paper napkin, or fabric of some kind before the face,” or “Cover your mouth! Influenza Is Spread by Droplets Sprayed From Nose and Mouth” and “Spitting Equals Death.” Some cities ordered all citizens to wear gauze masks in public. Signs read: “Obey the laws and wear the gauze, protect your jaws from septic paws.” Schools, churches, meetinghouses, movie theaters, saloons, and all places of gathering, even factories were ordered closed. Trollies would forbid anyone not wearing a mask to board, and funerals were not allowed.
Initially people complained about the disruption to their lives, and newspapers clamored angrily over canceled sporting events. But as the death toll rose, fear and desperation set in and people were afraid to even speak to each other. Some even starved to death because no one was willing to bring them food.
There were some who refused to heed warnings at the time—Philadelphia’s outbreak spiked after roughly 200,000 people attended that September parade—but Americans in 1918 were already accustomed to wartime sacrifice, pitching in for “Gasless Sundays,” “Meatless Mondays,” and “Wheat-less Wednesdays.” Women were used to making due with the essentials, working with what they had “on hand” to makes meals. People strived to eat breads made from corn, oats, barley, and other wheat substitutes to save the wheat for the soldiers. They went without ice to save ammonia, which could be used to make more hand grenades. Many people didn’t own an icebox, and mass produced foods were a new thing.
Today there are very vocal groups of protesters unwilling to give up their “hard-earned” freedom for the greater good. It makes me wonder what future historians and storytellers will say about us when they look back at this time of COVID-19. Will they admire our willingness to rise to the occasion, or not? Will they realize we learned from the past or that we were destined to repeat it? Perhaps if more of us remembered 1918—the year of the “forgotten pandemic”—we’d beat back COVID-19 sooner rather than later.
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