COVID-19 vs. H1N1-09: What a difference a decade can make

To reflect on what happened in 2009 regarding the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, it is difficult to understand how the government response isn't an overreaction by comparison. 

A review of the data reveals some vital distinctions:

  • Not as many elderly were at risk or affected (only 20% of H1N1 deaths over 65) by the swine flu. 
  • COVID-19 is seemingly being tracked much more definitively, while the swine flu appears to have been almost casually traced, considering the wide and broad data ranges produced by the CDC.
  • The "confirmed" cases of swine flu reflect a much less precise mid-range average of affected cases, while it appears that every positive result associated with COVID-19 continues to be magnified without further context or margin of error.  
  • The percentage of youth to middle-aged cases — a generally healthy demographic — infected with the swine flu was a whopping 80%, while Italy, the country reportedly hit hardest by the COV-19, reports an average fatality age of 79 (plus another pre-existing condition at the time of death). 

As per the CDC's 2009 H1N1 pandemic report:

From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086–402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus. Since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the (H1N1)pdm09 flu virus has circulated seasonally in the U.S. causing significant illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Additionally, CDC estimated that 151,700–575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.  Globally, 80 percent of (H1N1)pdm09 virus-related deaths were estimated to have occurred in people younger than 65 years of age. ... [T]he 2009 flu pandemic primarily affected children and young and middle-aged adults[.]

Also, if the Obama administration knew early on that the annual flu vaccine was not effective against this new H1N1 pandemic, why didn't it more conclusively track each and every case while shutting everything down, the way we've done in response to COVID-19? 

Consider the following portion:

Since the (H1N1)pdm09 virus was very different from circulating H1N1 viruses, vaccination with seasonal flu vaccines offered little cross-protection against (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection. While a monovalent (H1N1)pdm09 vaccine was produced, it was not available in large quantities until late November—after the peak of illness during the second wave had come and gone in the United States[.]

All this despite the fact that the first known case of this new and deadly H1N1 strain was initially reported all the way back in April of 2009.  Shortly after, approximately 11 days later, the Obama administration declared the outbreak a pubIic emergency, without any of the mandated precautionary measures we are currently engaged in.  It wasn't until October 23 of 2009 that President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, again without all the heightened response and prevention measures.

So where were all the vigilance and hysteria back then?  There were no mandated social distancing measures implemented resulting in widespread closures, economic devastation, and pork-laden government bailouts.

I'm not saying we shouldn't exercise caution, but let's not lose sight of this profound sentiment in times such as these:

"Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

—C.S. Lewis

To reflect on what happened in 2009 regarding the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic, it is difficult to understand how the government response isn't an overreaction by comparison. 

A review of the data reveals some vital distinctions:

  • Not as many elderly were at risk or affected (only 20% of H1N1 deaths over 65) by the swine flu. 
  • COVID-19 is seemingly being tracked much more definitively, while the swine flu appears to have been almost casually traced, considering the wide and broad data ranges produced by the CDC.
  • The "confirmed" cases of swine flu reflect a much less precise mid-range average of affected cases, while it appears that every positive result associated with COVID-19 continues to be magnified without further context or margin of error.  
  • The percentage of youth to middle-aged cases — a generally healthy demographic — infected with the swine flu was a whopping 80%, while Italy, the country reportedly hit hardest by the COV-19, reports an average fatality age of 79 (plus another pre-existing condition at the time of death). 

As per the CDC's 2009 H1N1 pandemic report:

From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086–402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus. Since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the (H1N1)pdm09 flu virus has circulated seasonally in the U.S. causing significant illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Additionally, CDC estimated that 151,700–575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated.  Globally, 80 percent of (H1N1)pdm09 virus-related deaths were estimated to have occurred in people younger than 65 years of age. ... [T]he 2009 flu pandemic primarily affected children and young and middle-aged adults[.]

Also, if the Obama administration knew early on that the annual flu vaccine was not effective against this new H1N1 pandemic, why didn't it more conclusively track each and every case while shutting everything down, the way we've done in response to COVID-19? 

Consider the following portion:

Since the (H1N1)pdm09 virus was very different from circulating H1N1 viruses, vaccination with seasonal flu vaccines offered little cross-protection against (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection. While a monovalent (H1N1)pdm09 vaccine was produced, it was not available in large quantities until late November—after the peak of illness during the second wave had come and gone in the United States[.]

All this despite the fact that the first known case of this new and deadly H1N1 strain was initially reported all the way back in April of 2009.  Shortly after, approximately 11 days later, the Obama administration declared the outbreak a pubIic emergency, without any of the mandated precautionary measures we are currently engaged in.  It wasn't until October 23 of 2009 that President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, again without all the heightened response and prevention measures.

So where were all the vigilance and hysteria back then?  There were no mandated social distancing measures implemented resulting in widespread closures, economic devastation, and pork-laden government bailouts.

I'm not saying we shouldn't exercise caution, but let's not lose sight of this profound sentiment in times such as these:

"Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

—C.S. Lewis