Flu vaccine strongly linked to narcolepsy in children

I believe that massive public health programs every winter for the consumption of flu vaccines are driven more by commercial rather than medical considerations. Now comes the news that the risk of narcolepsy in children is enhanced 14 times by the use of Pandemrix. Indiscriminate use of flu vaccines – especially with their limited effectiveness  – do a major public disservice by providing ammunition for the “anti-vaccination brigade”. Whether the success rate of the flu vaccines is high enough to justify the expense of mass campaigns is not clear for me. Certainly I am uncomfortable with the links  between pharmaceutical companies and those who authorise mass campaigns of vaccination.

(Reuters)Growing evidence of a link between GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s pandemic flu vaccine and an increase in narcolepsy cases among children who received it in Europe, is giving pause to health regulators weighing approval of a similar vaccine in the United States.

Data published recently in the British Medical Journal found that children in England who received GSK’s Pandemrix vaccine during the 2009-10 H1N1 swine flu pandemic had a 14-fold heightened risk of developing narcolepsy, a chronic and potentially debilitating sleep disorder that can cause hallucinations, daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, a form of muscle weakness precipitated by strong emotion.

Authors of the study – whose results echo those of similar studies in Sweden, Finland and Ireland – said the data had implications for the approval and use of future vaccines that, like Pandemrix, contain AS03, a new adjuvant, or booster, that turbo-charges the body’s immune response to the vaccine.

Scientists believe AS03 may be the culprit in the narcolepsy cases though they have yet to decipher the precise nature of the association.

…. A 14-member panel of advisors to the FDA voted unanimously in November to recommend the vaccine to protect against bird flu. The panel considered early studies from Europe showing an increase in the number of narcolepsy cases but concluded that the potential benefit of the vaccine outweighed the risk.

Since then, however, new data, including the study results from Britain, suggest the scale and strength of the narcolepsy link could be greater than first thought. At least one committee member would like the FDA to reconvene the panel.

…. According to GSK, some 30 million doses of the vaccine were administered across Europe and 800 people, mostly children, developed narcolepsy. While acknowledging an association, the company says there is insufficient evidence to prove Pandemrix is the cause. ……

I am not sure if the numbers (except the revenues and profits) actually add up.


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