Swine-flu vaccine link to narcolepsy in children

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Scientists have found a link between the Pandemrix swine-flu vaccination and the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.


The study in British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked at 75 narcoleptic children aged between four and 18, and discovered that 11 of these had only been diagnosed after their Pandemrix vaccination. The study shows that children vaccinated were more likely to develop the disorder.

The Pandemrix vaccine was recommended for a large number of ‘at risk’ groups during the pandemic flu outbreak at the end of 2009, including 850,000 children. The BMJ states that one in every 55,000 of the vaccinated will be at risk of developing narcolepsy. The study is concurrent with research done in Finland and Sweden.

Lead author Professor Liz Miller, a consultant epidemiologist with the Health Protection Agency, said, ‘These findings suggest there is an increased risk in children of narcolepsy after Pandemrix vaccination and this is consistent with findings from studies in other European countries. However, this risk may be overestimated by more rapid referral of vaccinated cases. Long term follow up of people exposed to Pandemrix is needed before we can fully establish the extent of the association.

‘Our findings have implications for the future licensing and use of adjuvanted pandemic vaccines. Further studies to assess the risk associated with other vaccines are also needed to inform their use in the future.’

Narcolepsy is thought to occur due to a loss of function to a group of cells in the brain, as a result of an abnormal reaction to the body’s immune system. Pandemrix is said to have triggered this immune system reaction in a small number of children.

Roughly 20,000 people in the UK suffer from narcolepsy, a neurological disorder which causes people to uncontrollably fall asleep during the day.

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