The Fact Checker’s Response to Pence’s Claim
In defending his record on the coronavirus pandemic, Pence misleadingly pointed to Biden’s handling of 2009’s H1N1 pandemic.
“When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, not 7.5 million people contracted the swine flu; 60 million Americans contracted the swine flu,” he said. “If the swine flu had been as lethal as the coronavirus in 2009 when Joe Biden was vice president, we would have lost 2 million American lives.”
It’s true that around 60 million Americans are thought to have contracted swine flu — but that’s an estimate based on modeling after the fact, which is not comparable to the raw count of the number of Americans infected with COVID-19.FactCheck.org1
A More Thoughtful, Logical, Response To FactCheck.Org and Mike Pence
It is true to say that the Swine flu numbers are an estimate based on modeling after the fact, and that comparing the numbers to the “raw” count on covid-19 isn’t an equal comparison – they are two different things, technically speaking. However, the reason they are not equal is the very same reason that VP Pence’s argument even more powerful than FactCheck.Org assumes.
See, our “raw” count of Covid-19 positive cases is far more reliable than the Swine Flu estimates. Never before in American history have we tested so many people, so quickly, and had a more “reliable” data set in terms of the number of positive cases. As a result Pence’s estimate is almost certainly mathematically correct. (Of course, the question of whether the tests themselves are reliable, and accurate, is another question entirely. But that is irrelevant to my current argument.)
The fact is, we weren’t testing for Swine Flu at the same scale as Covid-19, and Swine Flu wasn’t even treated in most cases.
So, because people weren’t being tested, and virtually no one was self-isolating, wearing masks, social distancing, etc., far more people contracted Swine Flu, and because its was as harmful far less people died from Swine Flu. Swine Flu isn’t as deadly as Covid-19, and as a result there was never a massive nationwide initiative to test virtually everyone. In addition, there wasn’t the same sort of fear, and caution, regarding Swine Flu. And rightly so.
Taking all of this into account I believe that while, mathematically speaking, Pence’s estimate is almost certainly true, it’s unfair to make the claim that “had Swine Flu been as harmful as Covid-19 we would have lost 2 million people.” Because I think it’s safe to say that had Swine Flu been as harmful as Covid-19 the actions taken by the previous administration would have been more similar to the actions taken by the Trump Administration. And as a result, less than 2 million people would have died. Now, had Obama and Biden acted as slowly for Covid-19 as they did for Swine Flu then certainly it’s possible that 2 million would have died. But I highly doubt Obama and Biden would have done that. COVID-19 was a totally different kind of outbreak than Swine Flu.
Furthermore, I think that arguing about which political team would have done a better job is a waste of time. In my experience, in most cases of natural disasters of this nature neither political party handles the crises much better than their competitors. The more worthwhile question Americans ought to ask themselves is this: which team – and/or individual politicians – do they feel was most responsible and willing to play WITH the other team instead of against them for political gain?
And that’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.