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Presidents, Infectious Diseases, and Vaccines

gerald ford gets a vaccine
Posted on February 15, 2022
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Presidents’ Day is celebrated Monday, February 21, 2022. While we are celebrating during a pandemic, it’s fitting to discuss how our Presidents have dealt with infectious diseases and vaccines.

Here are some historical facts about Presidents and their connections to flu and other vaccines:

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • In 1909, Franklin and Eleanor’s son, Franklin Junior, died of influenza the same year he was born
  • FDR was one of the millions of people who were infected during the 1918 flu pandemic
  • He suffered from double pneumonia caused by the flu
  • In 1921, FDR was affected by paralytic polio and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life
  • FDR did not live to see the successful development of polio vaccines, but on the 10th anniversary of his death, study results came out that the Salk vaccine was effective

Gerald Ford

  • In 1976, Gerald Ford met with Maurice Hilleman, a leading vaccinologist who developed over 40 vaccines in his lifetime, and other vaccine makers to discuss swine influenza vaccines
  • President Ford announced the launch of the National Swine Flu Immunization Program on March 24, 1976. He called on Congress to appropriate $135 million to fund production of enough vaccine to vaccinate the entire population of the United States
  • On October 14, 1976, President Ford received a swine flu vaccination from his White House physician, Dr. William Lukash (see photo)

George Washington

  • Washington caught the flu in May of 1790, likely from James Madison who stopped by his home when symptomatic
  • His flu infection was so serious that they called in Benjamin Franklin’s doctor from Philadelphia and snuck him in so as to not alert the public
  • Thankfully, he recovered, but it wasn’t clear at the time if he would survive




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