News & Politics

Did Obama Botch the Response to the H1N1 Outbreak? Here’s What the Media Isn't Telling You

Former President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Ill., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Stephen Haas//The News-Gazette via AP)

There appears to be a coordinated effort amongst Democrats and the media to destroy the public’s confidence in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s irresponsible and causing panic. I have no doubt that when this pandemic is over it will be clear the Trump administration handled it far better than Obama handled the H1N1 pandemic. I think the media knows this too, so they’re working overtime trying to erode the public’s faith in the Trump administration’s response in the hopes of ruining his chances of being reelected.

And Trump, being Trump, isn’t letting them get away with it. He’s compared the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 pandemic with the Trump administration’s response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic to show things are better than how the media is trying to present it. In response, the fake news media has tried to debunk Trump’s criticisms with fact-checks that ignore key details from the H1N1 outbreak in order to cover-up the Obama administration’s inadequate response.

The H1N1 outbreak originated in Mexico. Despite calls from members of Congress to do so, the Obama administration refused to restrict travel with Mexico or close the border. “Closing our nation’s borders is not merited here,” said Obama’s DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano when a national health emergency was declared. She argued that closing the border or U.S. ports would have “no impact or very little” in stopping or slowing the spread of the virus.

Trump proved this theory wrong when he took the bold step of banning travel from China back in January. He got criticized for it, but a month later WHO experts conceded that it worked and it saved lives. While countries like Italy and Iran were experiencing catastrophic outbreaks, the United States was not.

If Trump’s decision to close travel with China saved lives, Obama’s decision not to close travel with Mexico cost lives.

In addition to claiming restricting travel and closing the border with Mexico wouldn’t help slow the spread of the virus, Napolitano had also argued that it would have huge adverse economic consequences. Was Obama more concerned with the economic impact of restricting travel than with public health because we were in the middle of a recession at the time and Obama didn’t want to do something that might slow down the recovery? I think so. The economy would have recovered, but the lives lost because of his decision not to close the border were lost forever.

Leadership means making tough calls, even when they’re not popular. Trump restricted travel with China and other countries, including Europe, and has acknowledged the possibility of a recession as a result. But it has saved lives. Obama failed that leadership test.

Obama’s failure to restrict travel with Mexico wasn’t the only way the response to H1N1 was botched.

Barack Obama Department of Health and Human Services declared the H1N1 pandemic a “national health emergency” on April 29, 2009, but didn’t declare it a “national emergency” until October–two months after the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. A thousand Americans had already died due to the virus at this point. It can’t be a coincidence that Obama finally declared H1N1 a national emergency just days before a congressional oversight panel slammed the government’s response to the pandemic as inadequate and incomplete. In addition to being ill-prepared, the Obama administration failed to achieve its vaccine production goals. The New York Times reported in January 2010 that the Obama administration “predicted in early summer [2009] that it would have 160 million vaccine doses by late October,” but that “it ended up with less than 30 million,” leading to a public outcry and congressional investigations.

This failure undoubtedly cost lives. A study by Purdue University scholars published on October 15, 2009 (before Obama declared the national emergency) determined that the H1N1 vaccine would arrive “too late to help most Americans who will be infected during this flu season.” The study determined that the CDC’s planned vaccination campaign would “likely not have a large effect on the total number of people ultimately infected by the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.”

The New York Times noted that the vaccine shortage was caused by delays in the vaccine manufacturing process, and “put [Barack Obama] in exactly the situation he sought to avoid, one in which questions are being raised about the government’s response.” Senator Susan Collins said that while she believed the Obama administration took the pandemic seriously, she also believed they “were so determined to show that everything was under control that they sent the wrong signals about the adequacy of supplies of the vaccine.” Obama was so concerned about appearing that he had things under control (even though he clearly didn’t) that he actually played golf the same day he declared a public health emergency because obviously the public would think he had things under control and there was no reason to panic if he had time to golf.

In the United States alone there were over 60 million cases of H1N1, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths between April 12, 2009 and April 10, 2010. As of March 17, 2020, the CDC reports there are 4,226 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and 75 deaths. When you compare these numbers, it makes no sense that the media is criticizing Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic while covering up the failures of Barack Obama during the H1N1 pandemic.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis