Department defends indemnity deal with producers of swine flu vaccine

The Irish Times – Friday, April 20, 2012

THE DEPARTMENT of Health has defended its decision to sign an indemnity deal with the producers of a swine flu vaccine that is associated with an increase in the rate of sleeping disorders among children.

A report commissioned by the department and published yesterday concluded that an increase in narcolepsy among young people since 2009 is associated with the vaccine Pandemrix.

Narcolepsy is a disorder typically characterised by excessive sleepiness, sudden loss of muscle tone and hallucinations.

It found the risk of narcolepsy was 13 times higher among children and adolescents who received the vaccine than those who hadn’t.

At least 24 young people who received the vaccine in Ireland have received a diagnosis of narcolepsy. However, authorities are aware of other potential cases which have yet to be confirmed.

The young people affected range from five to 19 years old and all received the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine. Among those affected are students due to sit State exams such as the Junior and Leaving Certificate this year.

In all, health authorities administered more than 900,000 doses of this vaccine in 2009 and 2010.

The use of Pandemrix is no longer recommended in Ireland and GPs have been advised to return any remaining stocks. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine does not contain Pandemrix.

At a press conference yesterday, the department’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said he regretted the fact that some young people had developed a disorder associated with the vaccine.

However, he said the decision to push ahead with a mass vaccination campaign as the “right decision at the time” and it had helped to lessen the effects of the swine flu pandemic which was responsible for the deaths of 30 people.

Dr Holohan said the Government, along with other jurisdictions, had no option but to sign an indemnity deal in order to get access to sufficient quantities of the vaccine.

He said the Health Service Executive and other State agencies were working to meet the needs of children.

On the issue of compensation, he said the Minister for Health was drawing up proposals for Cabinet for the further support of those affected, but would not comment further on the issue.

A campaign group established by families of children affected by the disorder, meanwhile, expressed frustration yesterday at the speed of the State’s response to their children’s needs.

Sufferers of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder represents about 35 children it believes have been affected in Ireland. The group’s chair, Mary Fitzpatrick, called on the Government to follow the Finnish government’s moves to compensate children and meet their ongoing needs.

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