Second legal action over swine flu vaccine listed for November

Benjamin Blackwell, now aged 15, claims he contracted narcolepsy after getting Pandemrix jab

The second lead action of about 100 cases over a vaccine developed in response to the swine flu pandemic of 2009 and 2010 has been provisionally fixed for hearing at the High Court in November.

Benjamin Blackwell, now aged 15, from Ratoath, Co Meath, claims he contracted narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, and cataplexy, associated muscle weakness, after he received the Pandemrix vaccine in 2010.

His case is against the Minister for Health, the HSE and Glaxosmithkline Biologicals SA (GSK), manufacturer of Pandemrix. GSK was previously given an indemnity by the State concerning any adverse reactions to the vaccine.

The boy’s case had also been brought against the Health Products Regulatory Authority but the claims against it have been discontinued.


Listed for 16 weeks, the case is the second of the Pandemrix cases to come before the court for hearing and will involve evidence from a range of expert and other witnesses.

The first case over the Pandemrix vaccine, brought by Aoife Bennett, now aged 26, from Naas, Co Kildare, settled in November 2019 after a five week hearing on confidential terms for an undisclosed sum and with no admission of liability.

Ms Bennett’s lawyers, Michael Boylan Litigation Law Firm, who represent more than 70 other plaintiffs suing over the vaccine, have sought some €6m costs in relation to her case. Ms Bennett got the Pandemrix vaccine in school in December 2009 as part of the State campaign against the swine flu pandemic and claimed she developed narcolepsy and cataplexy.

On Wednesday, Mr Justice Michael McGrath was asked, during a case management hearing of the Blackwell case, to fix a hearing date on November 3rd.

The judge agreed to fix that provisionally as the hearing date but stressed the hearing going ahead was dependent on the situation in November concerning Covid-19 and on finding a venue large enough to accommodate the personnel involved in the case. No courtroom in the Four Courts is large enough to accommodate the personnel involved in line with the current Covid-19 guidelines, he said.

Efforts would be made to address that problem but he hoped the parties would also see if they could identify an appropriate venue, which did not have to be a courtroom and did not have to be in Dublin.

The judge said the case could be mentioned in September to update the parties.

He fixed for hearing on July 24th a dispute over some sworn material for the case. He also agreed to hear on that date an application for an interim costs payment for Aoife Bennet’s lawyers in relation to her case.

In the Blackwell action, the teenager, suing by his mother Natalie Blackwell, claims he was administered the Pandemrix vaccine on February 22nd 2010 at his national school. It is claimed he complained soon after of occasional headaches and a high-pitched squealing in his head and his parents noted changes in his behaviour, including dramatic mood swings and that he started falling asleep at odd times during the day.

He experienced ongoing problems with fatigue and was later diagnosed with narcolepsy and associated cataplexy.

It is claimed his condition will require him to have a lifetime of medication and will affect his ability to study, earn a living and other aspects of daily life. It is claimed neither he nor his parents would have consented to the vaccination if various matters were made clear to them, including that Pandemrix had allegedly never been, or never been adequately, tested, on children of his age.

Other claims include that tests on Pandemrix were more limited and less stringent than the normal tests to which vaccines are customarily subject before release to the public.

By February 22nd 2010, an alternative swine flu vaccine, Calvapan, was available and was known by that date to be much safer than Pandemrix, it is also claimed.

The defendants deny the claims and deny negligence and liability.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times