Potential Health Risks of Vaccinations - Consumer Justice Foundation

Potential Health Risks of Vaccinations

Written by Faith Anderson on January 22, 2013
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Potential Immunization Effects a “Medical Tragedy”

GSK’s swine flu shot was administered to more than 30 million people in 47 countries between 2009 and 2010, during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. The immunization was not used in the United States because it contains an adjuvant, or booster, and American drug regulators are wary of adjuvated vaccines. Since the vaccine was first used in 2009, GSK has received reports of 795 people across Europe developing narcolepsy. This so-called “medical tragedy” plaguing Sweden and much of Europe sheds light on the devastating side effects of defective medications, as well as the importance of holding drug companies responsible for the risks posed by their drugs and vaccines, many of which are unknown to consumers.

In light of the risk of narcolepsy associated with the swine flu shot, drug regulators in Europe have ruled that Pandemrix should no longer be used in consumers under the age of 20. In the meantime, ongoing research seeks to examine the triggers and biological mechanisms connecting narcolepsy to the H1N1 flu immunization. Even Emmanuel Mignot, a leading expert on narcolepsy who is being funded by GSK to investigate the link between the sleep disorder and the swine flu shot, says, while more research is needed before a causal link can be claimed, the evidence clearly points in one direction. “There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Pandemrix increased the occurrence of narcolepsy onset in children in some countries – and probably in most countries,” said Mignot.

Increased Risk of Narcolepsy Among Immunized Children

Although definitive evidence regarding a number of questions – including how narcolepsy is linked to Pandemrix, whether there might be a genetic susceptibility, and what the triggers and biological mechanisms might have been – has yet to be uncovered, the research that has already been conducted is rather damning for GSK. Independent teams of scientists have published studies from Finland, Ireland and Sweden, indicating that the risk of developing narcolepsy after the immunization campaign in 2009 and 2010 was between seven and 13 times higher for children who received the Pandemrix vaccine, compared to unvaccinated children.

Most people are aware of the frequent “sleep attacks” associated with narcolepsy, but, for those who haven’t experienced the sleep disorder first- or second-hand, narcolepsy is shrouded in a bit of mystery. In addition to bouts of sleepiness, narcolepsy is also associated with hallucinations, nightmares, sleep paralysis and episodes of cataplexy, occurring when strong emotions trigger a sudden loss of muscle strength. For one 14-year-old girl in Sweden, having fun is the emotional trigger. “I can’t laugh or joke about with my friends anymore, because when I do I get cataplexies and collapse,” said Emelie Olsson in reference to her narcolepsy. Emelie began exhibiting symptoms of the sleep disorder a few months after she received the Pandemrix immunization.

Pandemrix Risks Likely Outweigh Benefits

Estimates place the number of people diagnosed with narcolepsy between 200 and 500 people per million, and it is a lifelong condition with no known cure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic killed 18,500 people. And, while estimates indicate that Sweden’s mass vaccination campaign saved between 30 and 60 people from swine flu death, more than 200 cases of narcolepsy have been reported in the country since the pandemic ended – a risk-benefit balance that has, in hindsight, been called unacceptable. “This is a medical tragedy,” said Goran Stiernstedt, director for health and social care at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions. “Hundreds of young people have had their lives almost destroyed.” The question is, who is to blame?

The Pandemrix immunization was authorized by European drug regulators via a process that allows a vaccine to be authorized ahead of a possible pandemic using another flu strain – H5N1 bird flu in the case of Pandemrix. When the swine flu pandemic was declared, GSK replaced the bird flu strain with the H1N1 strain, and, voilà, Pandemrix was born. For its part, GSK’s chief medical officer for the company’s vaccines division, Norman Begg, says the drug firm is taking the narcolepsy issue very seriously and is “absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of this,” noting, predictably, that there is not yet enough data to suggest a causal link between the vaccine and narcolepsy side effects.

Contact an Experienced Attorney in Your Area for Help

As the New England Compounding Center faces mounting litigation in the face of the fungal meningitis outbreak in the United States, so should GlaxoSmithKline for the hundreds of children throughout Europe now facing the lifelong consequences of narcolepsy potentially linked to the drug company’s swine flu vaccine. If you took a pharmaceutical drug – prescription or over-the-counter – and you have since experienced an adverse medical event, our consumer advocates can put you in touch with an attorney in your area who has experience handling these types of claims. No vaccination or medication should put consumers – particularly children – at risk of suffering devastating side effects for the rest of their lives. With the help of an experienced lawyer, you may be able to file a claim against the drug manufacturing company, in order to pursue financial compensation for the harm you have sustained.

Posted Under: Editorial
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