Narcolepsy linked to flu vaccine in 25 children


A REPORT commissioned by the Department of Health is expected to show there is an association between the swine flu vaccine and the sleeping disorder narcolepsy in at least 25 Irish children.

The young people affected range from five to 19 years of age and all received the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine. Among those affected are students facing into State exams such as the Junior and Leaving Certificate this year.

The sleep disorder – which is very rare among children – is characterised by periods of extreme drowsiness, sudden naps and paralysis attacks. Health authorities insist flu-related vaccines are safe and the risk-benefit balance for such jabs remains positive.

In all, health authorities administered more than 900,000 doses of this vaccine in 2009 and 2010.

The national Health Protection Surveillance Centre – part of the Health Service Executive – analysed the details of about 30 children with narcolepsy and finalised a report for the Department of Health earlier this year.

The report is expected to show the rate of narcolepsy among children in Ireland rose 13-fold since the vaccine was administered. It is likely to report that in about two reviewed cases, children affected did not receive the vaccine.

The overall findings tally with data gathered in Finland in 2010 which found an association between a sharp increase in narcolepsy among young people and the Pandemrix vaccine.

Like Ireland, Finland had a large-scale vaccination campaign.

One study found the incidence rate of narcolepsy among children under 17 in Finland shot up 17-fold after the vaccinations. In contrast, the incidence rate for adults over 20 was unchanged. In another study, researchers estimated narcolepsy incidence for vaccinated children was 13 times higher than for those who were unvaccinated.

A campaign group established by families of children affected by the disorder has expressed frustration at the speed of the State’s response to their children’s needs.

Sufferers of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder (Sound) represents about 35 children it believes have been affected in Ireland.

The report commissioned by the Department of Health is due to be presented to the group today.

The State, which signed an indemnity deal with the producers of Pandemrix, has pledged to provide whatever support is needed to children and their parents.

Health authorities have provided medical cards for young people affected and are meeting the cost of private assessments. There is still doubt over what long-term support will be available.

The use of Pandemrix is no longer recommended in Ireland and GPs have been advised to return remaining stocks. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine does not contain Pandemrix.