In late January 1976 a number of recruits at Fort Dix in New Jersey began to complain of respiratory illness, on February 5, 1976, David Lewis, an Army private said he felt tired and weak. Private Lewis then left his sick bed to go on a forced run, collapsed, was revived by his Sergeant only to die a few days later and four of his fellow soldiers were additionally hospitalized. Two weeks after his death, health officials announced that swine flu was the cause of death and that this strain of flu appeared to be closely related to the strain involved in the 1918 flu pandemic. Alarmed public-health officials decided that action must be taken to head off another major pandemic, and they urged President Gerald Ford that every person in the U.S. be vaccinated for the disease’ despite prior knowledge that one version of the vaccine could cause neurological damage.
The vaccination program, enacted at a cost of $135 million, was plagued by delays and public relations problems. However, Centers for Disease Control vaccination efforts achieved unprecedented distribution results, with more than 40 million Americans immunized between October and December that year. The first vaccinations were given on approximately October 1, the government suspended the immunization program on December 16 after reports of at least 54 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome across ten states. Approximately 24% of the population had been vaccinated by the time the program was canceled. The suspected pandemic did not spread from Fort Dix and as a result only one person, an Army recruit, died from the flu in 1976. In the very long run, lives may have been saved—a study in 2010 found a significantly enhanced immune response against the 2009 pandemic H1N1 in study participants who had received the 1976 swine flu vaccination.