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What Can We Learn From the 1976 Flu Debacle?

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," April 27, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: Dr. Richard Wenzel is chairman of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University — diagnosed some of the early cases of swine flu in 1976.

Doctor, there was only one death. I remember the mania on television. Everybody was swine flu and all the craziness, but there was really — there was one person that died. This isn't — this isn't what we're dealing with now, or is it?

DR. RICHARD WENZEL, PROF. & CHAIRMAN, VCU INTERNAL MEDICINE: No, we're not. No, it's totally different. Today, we have at least looking at Mexico, 100 deaths. And we don't know the total denominator, but 100 deaths. If this were a severe flu with a 1 percent mortality, that means we have 10,000 cases in Mexico.

BECK: OK. They were only reporting .

WENZEL: If, in fact, 100 deaths .

BECK: I'm sorry to interrupt, but they're only reporting about — they are saying 1,600 people have been diagnosed with this.

WENZEL: I think that's a gross underreport. In 1918, the worst flu that we've ever had, the mortality was 2.5 percent. If today, it's 1 percent, those thousand deaths represent 10,000 cases. If, in fact, this is a routine virus, with a 0.1 percent mortality, now we're talking 100,000 cases in Mexico. For me, I think the truth is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000.

BECK: OK. Why is this — why did this come on the radar so quickly? I mean, we just heard about this on Friday. How long has the government been watching this?

I mean, Barack Obama — it was reported over the weekend that our president went to Mexico, shook hands with one of the head guys at some museum down there, shook hands with him, the next day, the guy died from the swine flu. You can't tell me we've been watching this — I mean, either that or we're just completely incompetent to have our president go down there.

When did this pop up? Is this moving quickly?

WENZEL: Well, I think there were probably some cases that people didn't put together completely in Mexico, but you're absolutely right. Most of the information came last Friday.

BECK: We had Secretary Leavitt on, who used to be the health and human services chairperson, and he said — or secretary — he said that we had a lot of vaccines that we spent a lot of money putting these vaccines together.

In 1976, it became all about politics, and the drug companies said, "No, no, no, wait, wait, we can't just develop this vaccine so quickly and just start pumping it into people." It actually paralyzed several people, right, like 500 people that got the vaccine were paralyzed. Why did that happen?

WENZEL: Well, it was one of those big surprises, not only did the epidemic not surface, but, in fact, the side effects of the vaccine were seven-fold higher in this neurological complication of so called "Guillian-Barre." And the reason it happens is there is a reaction to the vaccine that mimics molecular part of our nervous system. And this one, just by chance, happened to do it. Nobody expected it.

BECK: What should we learn from that? I means, if the government is saying, "Hey, by the way, we got to quickly act," what should we learn from that adventure in 1976?

WENZEL: Well, I think the decision to go ahead and explore vaccines is a wise one today. I think the decision to deploy them is what we learned from 1976. We had a cluster of 230 cases in New Jersey at Fort Dix, 13 severe cases in young men and one death. That's not something that you would immunize millions of people for.

BECK: Yes, OK. Doc, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

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