Swine flu vaccine
The case of Sam Goldstein
and the swine flu vaccine
out of 1
- Sam Goldstein, shortly before he
died of complications from the swine flu vaccine in
1977, holds son Craig on his lap. (Courtesy of the
NEW YORK (JTA) -- What they didn’t tell Samuel Goldstein in
1976 about the swine flu vaccine killed him.
Now his widow and son say that should be a lesson for anyone
worried about the warnings of a swine flu pandemic, which have
spread through the media in recent days.
Though there is no vaccine yet for the current strain of
swine flu, U.S. officials say one could be ready by November.
Sufficient stock to treat large numbers of Americans would not
be ready until January, according to media reports.
Goldstein was left a quadriplegic in 1962 as a result of
Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disease that can lead to
temporary or permanent paralysis and, in some cases, death.
Though Goldstein, then 14, recovered from Guillain-Barre
syndrome, he was left with limited motion and strength in his
arms and his legs. Nevertheless, he was able to walk with leg
braces and with a very weak upper body.
His condition hardly slowed him down, as Goldstein became the
first quadriplegic to compete and finish the American Red Cross
50-mile swim. In 1964 he was a member of the U.S. Paralympic
Team at the Tokyo Games and won silver medals in table tennis
and in backstroke and freestyle swimming, as well as a bronze
medal in the breaststroke.
His accomplishments in the sports arena recently earned him
induction into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Then, in 1976, the U.S. government became concerned about a
possible mass outbreak of swine flu after more than 200 soldiers
at Fort Dix, N.J., came down with the disease. Influenza had
killed more than 21 million people worldwide in 1918, and the
government, fearing the worst, immediately ordered that millions
of Americans be vaccinated. In all, more than 3 million people
were inoculated, including President Gerald Ford.
By then, Goldstein was living in Philadelphia and working as
an internal salesman for the American Interline Company, a
textile firm. He and his wife, Maggie, an amputee who also had
competed at the Paralympics, had a 2-year-old son, Craig.
Based on what they knew, they figured that being vaccinated
“We decided to take the swine flu vaccine because if Sam got
a cold, because he was weak in the upper body, he had a hard
time coughing,” said Maggie, now an administrative assistant at
the Perelman Jewish Day School in Philadelphia. “We thought
nothing of it, and we both got the vaccine.”
But within a month, Goldstein started to feel symptoms that
he recognized from when he was 14. It started with a tingling
sensation in his feet that spread upward. He had Guillain-Barre
syndrome again -- only this time it was much worse.
“He said, ‘I’ve got it. I have had this before,’ ” Maggie
recalled. “That was the first night of Chanukah. We were
supposed to have gone to his sister's. He chose not to come out
because he felt he could not control himself and he couldn’t
Two days later the government and the head of the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention, David Sencer, publicly said for
the first time that Guillain-Barre syndrome was a possible side
effect of the vaccine.
Within a month Sam Goldstein was dead. He was hospitalized
shortly after the first tingling, then paralysis spread
throughout his body. He died of pneumonia, a complication of
Guillain-Barre, on Jan. 15, 1977.
Between 24 and 32 people died of illnesses related to the
vaccine, and an estimated 500 people developed Guillain-Barre
syndrome. The feared pandemic of swine flu never materialized.
Would the Goldsteins have been vaccinated had they known it
could cause Guillain-Barre?
“No way," Maggie told JTA. "He would have to be hog-tied to
take that vaccine.”
After her husband’s death, Maggie sued the government. In
1982, a judge awarded her $850,000.
It was little solace, she said.
“Am I still angry? I guess. Because it robbed Craig of a
father, and it robbed me of my husband, and it always bothered
me that nobody acknowledged his death,” Maggie said. “With us,
the government hyped all this up and it was a non-event and
Craig Goldstein, who spoke to JTA the day Vice President Joe
Biden said he would not want his family taking the subway or
flying, said the country needs to stay rational.
“I am looking at it from a more rational perspective," said
Craig, now in his mid-30s. "I don’t think the outbreak is that
big a deal. I think we need communication, not mass hysteria.
“I would warn against panic and overcompensation. For me it
is a matter of taking it one step at a time. We need all the
information we can get, and we need to be careful.”
His mother echoes that sentiment.
“People don’t understand what the side effects are," she
said. "They are only like, ‘Oh my God, the sky is falling!’ I
still feel that a lot of people are going a little crazy about
this. It hasn’t happened yet.”
And as for the vaccine?
“I would say it is entirely up to the person," Maggie said.
"I wouldn’t tell people don’t take it. I would say think about
it, check out the side effects and just be aware of what the
side effects are.”
Dr. Michael Serlin, the chief of infectious diseases at North
General Hospital in New York City, says he isn't sure about
using the rational that because the swine flu vaccination from
1976 made hundreds of people sick that one should consider
forgoing it if the government soon recommends that Americans be
vaccinated for this strain of the flu.
While some 35,000 people die from influenza each year, this
strand of the flu is a cause for concern because it is new and
no one has immunity to it, Serlin said. And in general his
Manhattan hospital recommends that many people receives the flu
vaccination each year.
“Certainly the government learned a lesson about swine flu in
the mid ‘70s because they did vaccinate everyone, and there were
a lot of instances of Guillain-Barre syndrome,” he said. “But
hopefully they learned those lessons, and certainly the flu
shots we have in this day and age have no major evidence of any
major side effects.”