A swine flu vaccine called Pandemrix has been suspected of causing narcolepsy. Pandemrix was supplied to 30 million people in the European Union as a vaccine against the H1N1 version of swine flu. On the 24th of August Finland suspended its national vaccination programme after doctors reported cases of suspected narcolepsy after patients had been given Pandemrix. Sweden, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway have all reported cases of narcolepsy.
An official report commissioned by the Department of Health has concluded that an increase in the sleep disorder narcolepsy among young people since 2009 is associated with the swine flu vaccine Pandemrix. This report found there was 13-fold higher risk of narcolepsy among children and adolescents who received the vaccine compared with unvaccinated young people.
The use of Pandemrix is no longer recommended in Ireland and GPs have been advised to return any remaining stocks. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine does not contain Pandemrix.
Narcolepsy is a brain disease in which sufferers have daytime sleepiness, broken sleep at night and a condition called cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle tone and strength. Additional symptoms include automatic behaviour (patients carry out certain actions without conscious awareness). All of the symptoms of narcolepsy may be present in various combinations and degrees of severity.
Narcolepsy usually begins in teenagers or young adults and affects both sexes equally. The first symptom to appear is excessive daytime sleepiness, which may remain unrecognized for a long time in that it develops gradually over time. The other symptoms can follow excessive daytime sleepiness by months or years.
It appears that the swine flu vaccination was purchased with a contract that stipulated that the company who produced it would be free of responsibility to cover any costs associated with side effects. With this in mind, it is now down to the state to fund the swine flu vaccination compensation packages.
At a press conference yesterday, the department’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he regretted the fact that some young people had developed a disorder associated with the vaccine. The Department of Health has also defended its decision to sign an indemnity deal with the producers of a swine flu vaccine and have said that they had no option but to sign an indemnity deal in order to get access to sufficient quantities of the vaccine.
Courts in Sweden have already awarded compensation to children who have developed this disorder.