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I came across a cartoon by Giles from the Daily Express of 28 August 1957. There was controversy about US Armed Forces being stationed in the UK at the height of the cold war. Giles, an acute observer of humanity, was making fun of the fact that US forces in the UK were given "Anti-Asiatic-Flu" injections not available to the people that lived here.

Giles Cartoon

What were these people given in 1957? A vaccine? An antiviral? Would it have done any good at all?

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Probably the flu vaccine. The first flu vaccine was developed in 1937, it only protected against one strain of the virus (we now vaccinate against three or four), but by 1942, another strain was added. The US Army even carried out the trials to test the vaccine and used it during WW2.

Was it effective? Yep, at least in 1944.

During the 1943–1944 season when the epidemic started in early November, the trial was repeated and 6,263 subjects were vaccinated.[10] This time the results showed that only 2.2% of the vaccinated subjects had clinically assessed influenza disease compared with 7.1% of those not vaccinated, an efficacy of 69%.

That's a really good number for a flu vaccine. Better than we had the Achievements and challenges in antiviral drug discovery, which varied between 10 and 60 percent - flu vaccine effectiveness varies wildly because what specific strains are vaccinated against need to be picked ahead of time and there's no guarantee that these are going to be the most widespread in the next season.

1957 saw a flu pandemic of the Asian flu.

The rapid development of avaccine against the H2N2 virus and the availability of antibiotics to treat secondary infections limited the spread and mortality of the pandemic

It contrast, antivirals (against any virus) weren't discovered until the 50s and it was only in the late 60s that one effective against influenza started to be used. They are also used for treatment, not as mass prevention.

Sources

The Evolving History of Influenza Viruses and Influenza Vaccines

Achievements and challenges in antiviral drug discovery (full text PDF available)

Asian flu pandemic of 1957

  • 1
    Very comprehensive, thanks very much! – emrys57 Nov 16 '15 at 16:01

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