HEALTH authorities have pulled batches of a swine flu vaccine which has allegedly led to children developing incurable sleep disorders.
Medics will no longer be issued with the vaccine, Pandemrix, and will instead have to use a different jab this winter.
Pandemrix was rushed on to the market in response to the swine flu epidemic during the winter of 2009-2010.
However, it is being blamed by some parents in Ireland for childhood narcolepsy. The condition causes them to fall asleep unexpectedly at regularly intervals.
Earlier this week the Herald reported how the Irish Medicines Board has received 16 reports with clinical information "which confirms a diagnosis of narcolepsy in individuals who were vaccinated with Pandemrix".
A new support group for families affected, called SOUND (Sufferers Of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder) will be launched tomorrow in Dublin.
The group believes there could be as many 23 children who have developed the disorder.
The European Medicines Agency recently ruled that Pandemrix should only be given to under-20 patients if they are at risk of swine flu and no alternative is available.
In its review of studies of Sweden and Finland, where similar cases of narcolepsy were reported, the watchdog suggested the vaccine could have interacted with genetic and environmental factors such as local infections in Scandinavia to increase the risk. But the findings cannot be applied to Ireland.
Mairead Lawless from Rathgar in Dublin, whose six-year-old son Alex developed narcolepsy three months after getting the vaccine, said yesterday that he now spends his afternoons asleep instead of playing with his friends .
"My family is devastated at the change in Alex. At least 22 other children in Ireland that we are aware of have developed narcolepsy since late 2009 and we believe it is linked to Pandemrix."
The parents sought a meeting with Health Minister James Reilly but were referred to the Health Service Executive.
They were advised to apply for medical cards but only one family so far has received a card. Mairead pointed out real needs of the children extend beyond the medical card and said there should be some educational supports for them as they frequently have to miss school.