In March, the president of the United States appeared before reporters to discuss the reappearance of swine flu. Worried about a pandemic, he announced the appropriation of funds sufficient to inoculate “every man, woman, and child in the United States,” amounting to nothing short of the largest public health campaign in US history. Disease biologists working closely with the president supported his decision (at least most of them). What The New York Times called “the virus that caused the greatest world epidemic of influenza in modern history” had returned. And so the cost of inaction, the president argued, was too great to countenance.
That was 1976. Gerald Ford was president. […]