Letter from the President (October 2020)

The political handling of the swine flu fiasco had elements of farce (Credit: Getty Images)

With a pandemic looming, the US president announced a warp-speed effort to vaccinate every man, woman, and child in the country. 

Pascal Imperato was waiting in line for his vaccine shot. So were the cameras.

It was around 10:30 in the morning on October 12th, and Imperato was at the Chelsea Health Clinic, an Art Deco building in the lower west side of Manhattan. The clinic was one of around 60 locations dotted around New York, preparing to vaccinate almost everyone in the city.

The President had ordered an unprecedented mass vaccination of everyone in the United States. As Imperato rolled up his sleeve, it was the first day of the effort in New York.

Imperato was deputy health commissioner and the chair of the task force charged with rolling out the program in the city, so he’d volunteered to be photographed for the newspapers as he got his shot. The mayor of New York City, when asked, had refused, so Imperato had stepped up. Turnout was strong across the city that morning.

But what was meant to be a ceremonial opening and positive public relations effort would turn sour. That week, the papers had begun reporting troubling news from vaccine clinics in Pittsburgh: three apparently unexplained deaths due to heart attacks.

“I remember that day. I remember it vividly,” recalls Imperato. “I saw those headlines on the subway. And I said, ‘Good God. All hell is breaking loose here.’”

The headlines would get worse. Two days later, the New York Post tabloid wrote of “The Scene at the Pennsylvania Death Clinic”, featuring emotional but almost certainly embellished tales: “One of the old people, 75-year old Julia Bucci, had winced at the hypodermic needle in her arm, had taken a few feeble steps, then dropped dead on the floor of the health station. Right in front of their eyes.”

The stories, it would turn out, were false and misleading. But it was just one of many problems that plagued the “swine flu affair of 1976”, when a US president decided to rush a vaccine to the entire American population based on ill-founded science and political imprudence.  Lawsuits, side-effects, and negative media coverage followed, and the events dented confidence in public health for years to come. 

from Richard Fisher’s “The Fiasco of the 1976 ‘Swine Flue Affair’

The above was taken from a September 20th article written by Richard Fisher, a senior journalist for BBC–well worth the entire read. Given this was some 40-plus years ago, it’s not something I recall, but a bit surreal given our current climate.   

More likely for that time my memory points to trying to jump sidewalk cracks with friends pretending we were Evil Knievel. Yep, while the government was proposing mass vaccination, we were awestruck by a Harley rider that jumped cars, vans, and buses. (Side note–the Evil Knievel toy is back, available via Amazon.)

Times have changed, and the world is decades smarter, bigger, and faster. The entire population of the US during the Spanish Flu (1918) is about the equivalent population added from 1976 to today. No wonder getting on a podium is tougher with 120 million more people.   

While we thought we’d be watching a sub 2-hour marathon in 2020, we are instead binge-watching reruns on Netflix. If you were unfortunate enough to catch the Presidential debate, I’d suggest before the next sparring match you might seek suggestions from friends and tee up something like the 2019 Backyard Ultra that follows our former local Maggie Guterl.   Watch it in advance so you can channel the amazing level of fortitude Maggie and many of our club’s ultra runners have exhibited at races, or save it for the broadcast moment to drift off to a different time or place.    

Hopefully we’ll get a race report from one of our ultra runners or pacers this month that attended Worlds End Ultra late this September. This is the site of a well-known aid station organized and supported by Pacer volunteers. The bonus would be something from Alan Cook, who’s an amazing crew chief and support for Elaine and others.   

About this time last year, I may have been commenting about ketchup and how its origin was Chinese and not tomato based. It was my segue into Blues Cruise that would have been the weekend of October 4th. Unfortunately, as we’ve communicated, both the State and the Army Corps have put restrictions in place that forced the cancelation of the event this year. Posted on the FB discussion page we have proposed a group fun run for the date which will cover various distances up to about half of the 50k course.  If you’re not on FB, please reach out to President@pagodapacers.com, and I will share the details. Watch for additional similar events through the fall. 

Getting in some long runs on the weekends might be the key to keep pace with Beth Kohl’s 130-mile October and the group of gluttons she’s encouraged to participate in this year’s Reading Hospital 2020 Virtual event. I’d encourage you to support the Friends of Reading Hospital who have supported the Pacers in the past and this year they are targeting funds to purchase a Mobile Mammography Coach. Try and say that three times fast. Ok, try once. Ok, just mumble.  

Breaking down 130 miles for the month, it’s only 4.2 miles per day, so I’d encourage you to join the Wednesday runs where 3-6 miles is an average night. Some will be there for fun and socializing, while others (aka me) might be there because otherwise we’d suffer Halloween because of procrastinating to month’s end. Our group run attendance has been good, considering, and the respect of COVID-related issues is being well observed. 

Our volunteer opportunities have been fewer this year, but we’re going to ask for your help Saturday, October 24th to support Tom Chobot and the running of the junior high cross country event. This is one of our give-back events, supporting the sport, coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves. Tom will fill in the details closer to the October 8th General Membership meeting. This is important, really important, for the kids that have had their world turned upside down. 

As a club, we’ve avoided the path of the virtual races, so we’ll need to come up with a catch phrase similar to “No-shave-November.” With your best Dutchie voice, how about, “No-Oley”? Lenny, Brandon, and a few others are working out the details to Strava-map the Oley 10 miler for a non-race event. You’ll have the month to run the course as often as plausible to achieve the best between fame, fortune, and accolades only a mother could share.

Polly Corvaia and Sue Jackson are moving forward with preparations for Kris Kringle and the Shiver series respectively, making adjustments and adopting best practices we’re learning as group races return. There will be limits to the participants and spectators, so sign up early and train often.

Financially the club remains on a path of prudence, and if you’ve read this far, the Board felt you should be rewarded. For the members in good standing going into 2021, the club is going to waive all membership fees. We will still solicit for new members and ask that they contribute the standard fees to join the worthy cause.   

Speaking of the Board, we’ll be having elections in the month of November, so stay tuned and watch for updates on how electronically we will be collecting applicants and votes. 

I’ll apologize now for the length and rambling of this letter along with the lack of content recently.  It’s a struggle to capture topics to write about when all you’re dreaming of is that new Evil Knievel toy heading to home.   

Got to wash my hands, put on my mask, and run.   


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