ATLANTA -- A prominent former federal health official whose career was tainted by controversy over a swine flu campaign in the 1970s has died.
He was head of the government health agency from 1966 through 1977, then later served as New York City's health commissioner during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
A respected scientist known for his sharp memory and public policy skills, Sencer was credited with overseeing a variety of disease-fighting campaigns.
He coordinated the CDC's involvement in an international campaign to eradicate smallpox, a historically deadly scourge. The campaign was hugely successful -- the last naturally occurring smallpox case was reported in the late 1970s. It also was one of the agency's first major steps into international public health, a field in which the CDC is now considered a leader.
But for most people, Sencer is first remembered for his involvement in the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign.
Health officials became alarmed when cases of a flu virus linked to swine were detected in soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., including one young man who died. It reminded them of the terrible Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919.
Sencer coordinated a series of high-level meetings and recommended to President Gerald Ford that a national vaccination campaign be launched to prevent widespread deaths and illnesses.
More than 40 million Americans were vaccinated, but the epidemic never materialized. Worse, the government began to receive dozens of reports of a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome that was blamed on the vaccine. The campaign was suspended in December of that year and Sencer lost his job.