Do not rush to criticize Biden over comment about swine flu

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Vice President Joe Biden is currently being criticized by officials from President Barack Obama to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and ridiculed in the press, for his warning to avoid airplanes and subways amid the swine flu outbreak. These attacks may be motivated by the fear that he might be on to something, which would be bad for business.

Reviewing a little history is important at this time. In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic killed more people worldwide than all the bullets, bombs, poison gas, starvation, etc., in World War I. I remember my mother, a city high school student at the time of the outbreak, telling me how students who sat near her began to “disappear” — i.e., die — before her school closed.

She learned that many students in the upstate elementary school she attended died until they shut that one−room school, collected the students’ clothing and books, threw them inside the school and burned the building to the ground. A new school was then built.

I also remember how, in 1948, when I was a fifth−grader at PS 41 in Bayside, when the smallpox outbreak began, we went to the school nurse for a vaccination. Two sisters who were not vaccinated contracted smallpox and died. Several years later, there were the “polio summers” in the city, when my parents would not take my brother and me to the beach, movies or park to ensure we did not wind up in iron lungs.

After I caught the regular flu in the eighth−grade, it turned into pneumonia. I then spent weeks in Flushing Hospital and a month out of school in 1951 before the development of medications that now cure you in days.

So, my thanks to Biden for raising the alarm. If Biden is wrong, this probably will be seen as just another of his gaffes, but if correct, history may remember Biden as a 21st century Paul Revere, riding through the airwaves to warn that “the swine flu is coming” and for our health we should try to avoid large crowds.

As for me, barring some family emergency — ever since Sept. 11, I will not travel by plane anyway — but until the swine flu epidemic ends, I will avoid the Long Island Rail Road and subway. If I had a teenager attending St. Francis Preparatory High School, I would transfer him or her to Bayside High School, which appears to have no swine flu cases. The cleanup at St. Francis is little more than a public relations campaign to calm students and their parents.

Remember this, Obama and Bloomberg: better safe than sorry.

Frank Skala


East Bayside Homeowners Association


Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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