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When the US Government Fast-Tracked a Flu Vaccine in an Election Year

September 2, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

More than a quarter of the nation was inoculated for a pandemic that never materialized.

After Private David Lewis collapsed and died during a basic training exercise at New Jersey’s Fort Dix on February 4, 1976, an investigation into the 19-year-old’s premature death identified a long-dormant, but notorious killer as the cause.

Blood tests conducted at the Center for Disease Control revealed that Lewis had contracted a type of swine flu thought at the time to be genetically close to the 1918 influenza mislabeled the “. “The way the scientists talked about it was more complex than political officials and the media, who were looking to make the analogy to the Spanish flu.”

READ MORE: When Mask-Wearing Rules in the 1918 Pandemic Faced Resistance

Accusations of Election Year Fear-Mongering

Vials containing the Swine flu vaccine are shown prior to being shipped out, September 1976.

Under the National Swine Flu Immunization Program that received bipartisan approval from Congress, the federal government planned to buy 200 million doses of vaccines developed by drug companies and distribute them for free to state health agencies. It would have been the largest immunization campaign in American history, even more ambitious than prior polio vaccination drives.

Problems plagued the program from the start, however. One drug company produced 2 million vaccine doses with the wrong viral strain. Tests could not achieve suitable antibody levels in children. And with the compressed timeframe precluding the typical years of experimentation and clinical trials, insurance companies refused coverage for vaccine makers in the case of inevitable adverse reactions.

With Lewis still the lone swine flu fatality, studies finding the strain less virulent than first thought and the U.S. the only country planning mass vaccinations, Ford’s critics accused him of scaring the public and playing politics with a presidential election looming. “There has always been this undercurrent of doubt about the motivations behind these large-scale programs and whether they were really about making pharmaceutical companies money,” Dehner says. Newsweek was already calling the endeavor the “swine flu snafu” when a mysterious string of deaths stoked fears that the outbreak had already begun.

READ MORE: How 5 of History’s Worst Pandemics Finally Ended

Public Confidence in the Vaccine Waned

President Gerald Ford receiving the swine flu vaccine from his White House physician, Dr. William Lukash, October 14, 1976.

As the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial summer, a respiratory disease killed 34 people …read more


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Off-duty police officer mistakenly enters neighbor's apartment and shoots its owner to death

September 2, 2020 in History

By Editors

On September 6, 2018 an off-duty Dallas police officer fatally shoots an unarmed Black man in the victim’s own apartment.

Returning to her apartment complex in Dallas, Texas, police officer Amber Guyger entered the apartment of Botham Jean, believing it to be her own. The apartment door was ajar, she later testified, and when she entered she found a man inside. She fired her weapon, killing him.

Guyger was not arrested until three days later and was originally charged with manslaughter, rousing the anger of the public. She was eventually charged with murder.

Guyger claimed that exhaustion after a 13-hour shift caused her to mistakenly climb an extra flight of stairs and enter the wrong apartment, where she became frightened when she saw the silhouette of what she believed to be a burglar in what she believed to be her home. She also claimed that told him to raise his hands and that he began to move toward her before she shot him in the chest.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Guyger could hardly have confused a different door with a different doormat on a different level of the complex for her own, that Jean’s behavior—he was sitting on the couch eating ice cream—bore no resemblance to that of a burglar, and that Guyger broke police protocol by entering the apartment and firing her gun rather than calling for backup from the nearby police station.

Despite the judge’s decision to allow the jury to consider the “castle doctrine,” a Texas statute that justifies deadly force in defense of one’s home, the jury found Guyger guilty of murder, a charge she appealed. Guyger was the first Dallas police officer to be convicted of murder since 1973.

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On 9/11, Some Evacuated the Pentagon—But Kept Going Back Inside

September 2, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

‘We pledge to never leave a fallen comrade behind,’ says one of the survivors.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lieutenant Colonel Paul “Ted” Anderson noticed that his colleagues at the Pentagon were gathered around a TV. When he walked over, he learned that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City.

“I watched with them in amazement as the second airplane actually hit the second tower [at 9:03 A.M.],” says Anderson, who was then working for the secretary of the Army’s office of congressional and legislative affairs. “We watched it live, and I almost threw up.”

Soon after, Anderson received a call from his wife at the time, a sixth grade teacher in North Carolina, who was already watching and discussing the attacks with her class. He was on the phone with her and her class when a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, struck the Pentagon between Wedges 1 and 2. Anderson was in Wedge 2.

READ MORE: September 11: Photos of the Worst Terrorist Attack on US Soil

Col. Paul “Ted” Anderson stands outside the Pentagon, glancing at planes leaving National Airport, in August 2002.

“The entire building literally felt like it had completely lifted off the foundation,” he says. “I said, ‘We’ve been bombed, I have to go,’ and I hung up. And I got up and I started screaming for people to get out of the office.”

READ MORE: 9/11 Timeline

The attack on the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia killed 189 people in the building and on the plane (including the hijackers), and may have killed more if not for the actions of civilians, service members and first responders that day.

When the plane hit the Pentagon at 9:37 A.M., it wasn’t immediately clear to those in the building what had happened. As Anderson mentions, his first thought was that it was a bomb. One security guard warned Anderson to be careful opening the exit doors, fearing the bomb was a way to scare people out of the building so shooters could gun them down.

In this handout provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, first responders are shown on scene following an attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists who flew it in …read more