This is not the first time the government has rushed through a vaccination programme in response to a threatened epidemic. In 1976, the American government, warned by scientists that an epidemic of the swine flu was imminent, pressed all American adults to line up for a hastily developed jab. One of every 100,000 Americans given the shot developed Guillain-Barre paralysis from a vaccine that was insufficiently tested for a disease that, in the end, never arrived. The government ended up paying out $93 million in compensation to victims.
More recently, in 1998, the US confidently included a new vaccine for rotavirus, the disease which causes serious dehydrating diarrhoea in babies, among the schedule of vaccines given to 2 month old infants. Just a year later, Wyeth Lederle Vaccines was forced to withdraw from the market its new vaccine RotaShield, when the Centres for Disease Control discovered a link between the vaccine and the development of bowel intussusception, or bowel collapse, in more than 100 infants. Of 102 cases, 29 babies required surgery and seven had bowel resections. One infant died. This for a disease that kills, at most, 20 American babies a year.