Monday 14 October 2019

Swine flu vaccine gave me narcolepsy, woman tells court

Stock image
Stock image

Tim Healy

A 26-year-old woman given the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine as a teenager developed the sleep disorder narcolepsy as a result, it has been claimed in the High Court.

Aoife Bennett was 16 when she got the vaccine as part of a mass vaccination programme as the country braced itself for a human swine flu pandemic 10 years ago.

It is the first case over an alleged link between the human swine flu vaccine and narcolepsy and is regarded as a test case for as many as 100 other cases due before the High Court.

Ms Bennett, of Lakelands, Naas, Co Kildare, a third-level student, has sued the Health Minister, the HSE, the vaccine producer GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals SA and the Health Products Regulatory Authority. The defendants deny the claims and liability. Opening the case yesterday, her counsel Dermot Gleeson SC said it was not an anti-vaccination case and the Bennetts are a pro-vaccination family.

He said Ms Bennett got the vaccine in December 2009, a few days before her 17th birthday. He said narcolepsy was not diagnosed until almost two years later.

He said narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease which is incurable, where Ms Bennett suffers uncontrollable bouts of sleep during the day.

"If Aoife Bennett was in Newry rather than in Naas, 85 miles away, she would not now have narcolepsy." Mr Gleeson said. The swine flu vaccination programme, he said, cost €100m. He claimed the Pandemrix vaccine was never tested on teenagers.

"It was forgiveable for the HSE to offer the vaccine. It was unforgivable not to tell Aoife and her parents what they well knew about it at the time," he said. He said the case against the HSE is about "not coming clean" and not telling what was known about the vaccine.

The disease affects those with a genetic variant. He said Aoife can be "like a puppet collapsing during the day" and she once collapsed in the shower, breaking her teeth.

The focus of the hearing is to decide whether the defendants, or any of them, are liable, arising from Ms Bennett having narcolepsy. If liability is established, a separate hearing will be held later to assess damages.

The defendants contend the Pandemrix vaccine was properly and validly authorised by the European Commission for use in all EU member states and was required to address the pandemic H1N1 2009 virus, as confirmed by the World Health Organisation, in 2009.

The case before Mr Justice Michael McGrath continues.

Irish Independent

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