The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

The Swine Flu Immunization Program of 1976

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Early in 1976 several soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, fell ill with a strain of H1N1 influenza. One of the soldiers died from this swine flu, leading to fears of a widespread outbreak of a strain of flu that might be closely related to the one that caused the 1918 pandemic.

At the urging of the Center for Disease Control and several well-known and respected scientists, the Ford administration moved quickly to initiate a program in response to this perceived threat. This undertaking "was unprecedented in intended timing and in scope among American immunization efforts," Richard Neustadt and Harvey Fineberg later noted in their report The Swine Flu Affair.

President Ford announced the launch of the National Swine Flu Immunization Program on March 24, 1976. He called for three actions: for Congress to appropriate $135 million to fund production of enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population of the United States; for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) to develop plans for distributing the vaccine from September to November of that year; and for every person to receive the vaccine once it became available. "Let me state clearly at this time, no one knows exactly how serious this threat could be," he said. "Nevertheless, we cannot afford to take a chance with the health of our Nation."

Congress appropriated the necessary funds and vaccine production began. Several issues arose that slowed progress, most significantly the vaccine manufacturers’ demands for the government to provide liability protection to them in case of adverse reactions to inoculation. The National Swine Flu Immunization Program of 1976 legislation signed on August 12 answered that request and officially authorized HEW to carry out the planned inoculations.

Due to delays vaccine distribution did not begin until October. More than 40 million people received the swine flu shot in less than three months. A small number of people who were immunized developed a serious side effect, Guillain-Barré syndrome, which led to the suspension of the program on December 16 to investigate the risk associated with the vaccine. Large scale immunization never resumed. HEW officially ended the swine flu immunization program in March 1977.

President Ford receives a swine flu inoculation from his White House physician, Dr. William Lukash, October 14, 1976
President Ford receives a swine flu inoculation from his White House physician, Dr. William Lukash, October 14, 1976
(White House photograph B1874-07A)


Digitized Holdings Related to the Swine Flu Immunization Program of 1976

Selected Items

Systematically Digitized Folders

Additional Collections for General Information


To provide a public resource on this Federal government program, Ford Library staff members Anne-Louise Mittal and Nancy Mirshah selected and digitized a number of documents and photographs from the Library's holdings. Ford Library staff have added more materials as they have been systematically digitized.