A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Skepticism over COVID-19 vaccines is an ongoing battle for public health officials. A recent AJC poll found that out of 858 registered Georgia voters, 62% would get a COVID-19 vaccine “if scientists found it to be safe,” but 34% would not do so. And some of the state’s health workers are refusing immunization against COVID, citing a lack of “hard data and research to understand potential side effects.”

It’s not the first time the public has been reluctant to get vaccinated.

In late winter 1976, Americans heard that a new, deadly virus threatened the public — and when the president pushed a nationwide vaccination program, critics and supporters debated the merits of something so ambitious.

“Early last month, a swine-like flu strain appeared at Ft. Dix, N.J., killing one 19-year-old recruit,” the Atlanta Journal’s Charles Seabrook wrote in a March 26, 1976, article. “The ailment was confirmed in 12 other soldiers, and up to 500 others on the Army post may have had the illness.”

March 1976 -- Journal writer Charles Seabrook detailed the pros and cons of a proposed $135 million program aimed at vaccinating every America against a feared new strain of swine flu. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES
March 1976 -- Journal writer Charles Seabrook detailed the pros and cons of a proposed $135 million program aimed at vaccinating every America against a feared new strain of swine flu. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC Print Archives

Credit: AJC Print Archives

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“The Ft. Dix outbreak was the first appearance of a swine-like flu strain in humans since 1930,” Seabrook continued. “And it was a swine flu strain that was believed to be responsible for the flu pandemic of 1918-19, the worst outbreak of influenza in recorded history. That pandemic killed some 548,000 Americans and about 20 million more persons around the world.”

President Gerald Ford and Centers for Disease Control officials, along with Congress, quickly set about to stave off a potential future epidemic in the U.S. by way of a $135 million program aimed at giving every American a new swine flu vaccine. From the outset, there was mistrust of the plan and the rationale underpinning it.

“A few of the nation’s health experts questioned Ford’s real motive in making such a decision, saying they suspect the President might be playing politics with the people’s health during an election year,” Seabrook wrote. “On the other hand, a large number of health experts from around the nation applauded Ford’s decision, saying the nation has needed such an anti-flu program for a long time.”

Ultimately, the program, which immunized 45 million Americans, was stopped in December 1976 after 450 of those vaccinated developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease. The current COVID-19 vaccination drive has encountered few if any serious side effects, however.

Georgia’s four state-run COVID vaccination sites opened Monday in hopes of speeding inoculations to those most at risk from the virus. Gov. Brian Kemp says expanded vaccine supply will eventually lead to more locations. Currently, Georgians can receive coronavirus immunization at the Delta Flight Museum outside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Albany Georgia Forestry Commission in southwest Georgia, the Habersham County Fairgrounds in Clarkesville and the Macon Farmers Market.

Supply and demand was a concern 45 years ago, too. With an estimated 50 to 100 million fertilized chicken eggs needed at the time to produce the 200 million doses of flu vaccine, industry insiders questioned whether the nation’s poultry population was up to the task.

“A lot of roosters are going to be working overtime,” one expert said.

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In this series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

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