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November 1985

Swine Influenza Vaccine and Guillain-Barré Syndrome: Epidemic or Artifact?

Author Affiliations

Lt Col Page Armstrong, MC, USAF
From the Department of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minn (Dr Kurland); the Department of Neurosciences, University of California-San Diego (Dr Wiederholt); the Office of the Surgeon General, US Army, Washington, DC (Dr Kirkpatrick); US Navy Environmental Health Center, Naval Station, Norfolk, Va (Dr Potter); and the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, Tex (Dr Armstrong).

Arch Neurol. 1985;42(11):1089-1090. doi:10.1001/archneur.1985.04060100075026

Physicians have generally accepted as fact that the (A-New Jersey-76) swine influenza vaccine administered to 45 million persons in the United States between Oct 1 and Dec 16,1976, was causally associated with an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Yet, the only substantive evidence for that association is a single study based on data collected by health officers during a hectic and highly publicized program that began shortly before the moratorium on the immunizations on Dec 16, 1976, and continued for six weeks until Jan 31, 1977.

The foundation for the thousands of claims against the US government for compensation for GBS and other disorders is the report by Schonberger et al that describes the epidemiologic features of 1,100 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as GBS by the state and territorial health officers.1 Of the 1,100 cases, all but two were "certified" by the CDC as