Parents 'distraught' over delay in getting vaccine documents
Lawyers acting for families who say their children suffered significant health problems following a controversial swine flu vaccine are due in court next month as part an effort to force the State to release crucial documents.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has now identified 300,000 documents relevant to the case and the Department of Health has 465,000 which need to be examined.
The vaccine, called Pandemrix, has been linked to the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Lawyers for both sides will appear in the High Court on October 5.
The State indemnified the vaccine's manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), against potential lawsuits. Other European countries did likewise, amid global fears of a swine flu pandemic in 2009.
However, some countries, including Poland and Switzerland, refused to licence it, saying it was insufficiently tested.
More than 60 children may have had their auto-immune system compromised by the vaccine rolled out by as part of a public health campaign in early 2010, according to families.
Irish authorities are fighting the families "tooth and nail" over accepting liability, according to solicitor Michael Boylan, a medical negligence expert with law firm Augustus Cullen, which represents more than 60 children.
Mr Boylan said the State refuses to accept it owes a duty of care to the children who received the vaccine.
"Progress has been painfully slow and parents are completely distraught." he said.
He says the Department of Health's stance is causing delays in dealing with the issue of compensation and agreeing a care package for those affected.
In a statement, the Department of Health told the Irish Independent that the vaccine was bought by the State in response to a pandemic alert from the World Health Organisation.
It said complying with the discovery order "is not a trivial or quick process" and eight staff were now compiling documents. A discovery order was made last November.
"Vaccination of children was prioritised as the rates of influenza were highest in those groups at that time," said the Department of Health.
It noted that 29 people died from swine flu, all but two of whom were in "at risk" groups. Those judged to be at risk included the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions and children.
A Government-commissioned report later found a 13 to 14-fold increase in the incidence of narcolepsy, which causes drowsiness, among children vaccinated with Pandemrix.
The swine flu risk turned out to be less severe than feared at the time and the public vaccination campaign ended in March 2010.
Negligence is alleged against the State and GSK in administering an untested vaccine and/or a defective product.