UK continues to use swine flu vaccine associated with narcolepsy

Research from Finland has uncovered an association between Pandemrix (the swine flu vaccine widely used in the UK) and narcolepsy in children who received the jab. Narcolepsy is a rare sleep disorder that causes sufferers to become excessively tired and sleepy such that they often fall asleep several times during a day. The Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare found that children between 4 and 19 years of age were 9 (nine) times more likely than unvaccinated children to fall ill with narcolepsy in the 8 months after receiving Pandemrix. Despite this huge increase in risk the numbers affected were still relatively small (54 children have so far been affected) because narcolepsy is such a rare disorder. The Chief Medical Officer of Finland's National Public Health Institute conceded that it may have been unnecessary to vaccinate children and young people against swine flu. Dr Terhi Kilpi said that perhaps the vaccine should not have been given to 5-20 year-olds and that she would no longer recommend the vaccination for this age group. She added that if she had known of the potential consequences, she would have not vaccinated 5-20 year-olds.
Finland suspended the use of Pandemrix last summer after initial concerns were raised about a possible association with narcolepsy. Following the recent confirmation of a link with the vaccine, Pandemrix was also suspended in Estonia. However the UK Department of Health (DoH) appears to have no concerns. When the seasonal flu vaccine was running out in some parts of the country last month, it recommended the use of the mercury-containing Pandemrix as a suitable substitute. This gung-ho approach is not surprising as, despite its protestations to the country, the DoH has rarely been seen to adopt a safety-first approach to immunisation.

Added 7 Feb 2011