The Sunday Times 2 March 2014
SIXTY people are to receive a multimillion-pound payout from the government after they suffered brain damage caused by a swine flu vaccine.
Most of the victims are children but they also include six health workers. Peter Todd, a lawyer representing many sufferers, said the government would face a bill of at least £60m — £1m for each victim.
“There has never been a case like this before,” he said. “The victims of this vaccine have an incurable and lifelong condition and will require extensive medication.”
Six million British people, mostly children, received the vaccine following the swine flu scare in 2009.
It was later revealed that the vaccine can cause severe epilepsy-type symptoms, called narcolepsy and cataplexy, in up to one in 16,000 recipients — suggesting that many more victims may yet come forward.
Narcolepsy destroys the sleep-wake cycle, leaving sufferers unable to sleep for more than 90 minutes at night, and liable to lose consciousness during the day. The condition damages memory and intellect and causes hallucinations that can lead to mental illness.
Cataplexy causes loss of consciousness during any expression of heightened emotion, including laughter.
There are 70 known Irish victims of the Pandemrix vaccine manufactured by Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and distributed to 30m people in Europe. Two hundred sufferers have been identified in Sweden and Finland.
GSK refused to supply governments with the vaccine unless it was indemnified against any claim for side effects. The company will compensate victims and reclaim the cost from the government. Todd, a lawyer with the London firm Hodge, Jones & Allen, said: “The government has accepted Pandemrix did cause narcolepsy.”
The claims made by NHS hospital staff, including senior clinicians, are likely to be much higher than those brought on behalf of the affected children.
The healthcare workers are battling symptoms to cling on to their jobs. One 50-year-old senior medical worker says he was bombarded by emails from his hospital trust in 2009 urging him to be vaccinated against swine flu.
He has been told he must accept lower-grade work and lower pay because he can no longer input patient notes on a computer.
“I am facing the end of my career and the loss of my house,” he said. “GSK did not do enough research and we are suffering the consequences.”
At least 80% of those affected are children. Josh Hadfield, 8, from Somerset, has memory problems and will never be an independent adult. Like other victims, he is taking drugs to stop him falling asleep during the school day. These include Xyrem, an anti-narcoleptic that costs £15,000 a year, Modafinil to keep him alert and an adult antidepressant to regulate his condition.
His parents have to get up twice a night to administer the drugs.
“He is afraid to express emotion and that causes problems with other children,” said his mother, Caroline Hadfield, 43.
“If you make him laugh, he collapses. His memory is shot. There is no cure. He says he wishes he hadn’t been born. I feel incredibly guilty about letting him have the vaccine.”
Mary Fitzpatrick, 51, said her son Conor, 16, who received the vaccine four years ago, has developed psychotic illness because of his hallucinations, and has been an in-patient in an adolescent psychiatric unit for the past 18 months. “He was a perfectly happy normal boy before this and he will never be how he was,” Fitzpatrick said.
“We were lucky it only took 10 months for them to work out what was wrong with him. There are more new families coming forward who are only just being diagnosed because this condition is so rare.”
Despite studies indicating a 13-fold higher incidence of narcolepsy in vaccinated children, and a 2011 warning from the European Medicines Agency against the use of the vaccine for the under-20s, GSK insisted the link was not confirmed.
It said: “Further research is needed to confirm what role the vaccine may have played in the development of narcolepsy among those affected.”