Irish Times ..and time again

OMG, do I love the Irish? The accent, the laid back charm, the sense of humour. I love the Irish so much and went and got myself one and married him. Gorgeous he is too. Having family connections with Ireland I like to keep abreast of Irish news and current affairs so I often have a mooch on the Irish Times website. The piece Almost 800 adverse reactions to swine flu vaccine identified, of course, caught my jaded and rather biased eye.

The article by Carl O’Brien starts with a falsehood,

“A total of 779 suspected adverse reactions were linked to the vaccine between 2010 and 2011.”

What O’Brien surely means is that 779 suspected adverse reactions to the swine ‘flu vaccine had been reported though, as yet, any link to most remains speculative.  Let’s have a look at those adverse reactions cited in O’Brien’s piece:

Localised Swelling

A hypodermic needle penetrated the skin and into soft tissue, ostensibly muscle. Swelling would be expected and would certainly not be a reaction peculiar to the swine ‘flu vaccine or any vaccine in particular.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Let’s make one thing clear: there is no such thing as gastric ‘flu. I rest my case.

‘Flu like symptoms

Well,  who’d have thunk it? In priming the immune system against the ‘flu,  mild symptoms of the disease were reported by  a number of individuals. I got the jab this year (as I have for the last few years) and had a rough old time with a vaccine modified dose of ‘flu – all the aches, pains and self pity but none of the snot, phlegm or general runniness. My guess is, I’d been incubating the virus around about the time of the jab. As rough as I felt, I’m thankful I escaped full on ‘flu.


I have no doubt whatsoever that some people who received the ‘flu vaccine still get the ‘flu. Like me, they could have been exposed to it around the time of their ‘flu shot. Let’s face it, you’re encouraged to get the vaccine as ‘flu season is getting into full swing. The vaccine itself can take a little time to come to full potency and sometimes the virus beats the vaccine to it. Unfortunately, no vaccine affords absolute protection. For some individuals a vaccine can be far less effective than in others (or indeed the population as a whole) and this, among a myriad of other reasons, is why mass vaccination is important in protecting those who cannot be vaccinated or in whom vaccines are not particularly effective.

Please, if anyone suggests to you that they got ‘flu from the ‘flu vaccine laugh loudly and right in their face – it doesn’t happen. It can’t. The vaccine does not contain a live ‘flu virus. Refrain from slapping them. If I can, you can.


Narcolepsy is a rare but debilitating condition the most obvious symptom of which is excessive sleepiness. It can be accompanied by a host of other problems such as cataplexy where one suddenly loses muscle tone as in sleep but while still awake and hallucinations, hypnagogia – dreaming while between sleep and wakefulness.

Around a dozen countries reported cases of narcolepsy following the administration of one brand of flu vaccine, Pandemrix, following the H1N1 outbreak of 2009 . This vaccine, produced by Glaxo Smith-Kline, was used in 47 countries world wide. More than 30 million shots were administered in Europe alone with six million of those going to UK recipients. The reported cases of narcolepsy following the administration of Pandemrix include 52 in Finland, fourteen in the Republic of Ireland and four as yet unconfirmed cases in the UK. “Further investigation [is] warranted,” says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Mr O’Brien omits theses figures. Around thirty cases of narcolepsy, as O’Brien is correct in reporting, are being investigated to see if they could possibly be linked to the Pandemrix vaccine – fewer than half those initially reported.

This time last year, A group in Finland published their preliminary data. What they found suggested a link between the vaccine and narcolepsy. The incidence of diagnosis in children aged five to nineteen had increased significantly compared to previous years’ data. Of those new cases, 90% were vaccinated with Pandemrix compared to a 70% vaccination coverage for that age group in general. Comparing one group with the other, the risk of narcolepsy is seen, in this study, to be nine times higher in those who received the vaccine than those who did not.


In response to the Finnish study, the World Health Organisation’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) stated

“it does not appear that narcolepsy following vaccination against pandemic influenza is a general worldwide phenomenon…there has been no increase in…people falling ill with narcolepsy in, for example, Canada, Germany or even Finland’s neighbour, Sweden. The four cases reported in the UK were flagged up only because of a temporal association to the vaccine being administered and onset of symptoms. In fact, the number lies well within expectations. To complicate the matter further, there has been observed a rise in cases of narcolepsy across both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in Scandinavia.”

Every single individual who developed the condition post vaccine that has been tested, has been found to be of the (HLA) DQB1*0602 genotype. The condition is familial. Of those who fall within this group, only around 40% become symptomatic so it seems there must be an environmental trigger for an individual genotypically narcoleptic to become phenotypically narcoleptic. Among the candidates for that trigger are smoking, stress and infections including influenza.

Narcolepsy has only been linked to the Pandemrix vaccine given in 2009 just as the outbreak of swine flu was taking hold. If the vaccine is to blame for narcolepsy in a few who received it, the data so far suggests that the factor causing the problem was limited to a very few batches.

So why the report in the Irish Times?  Every year some pharmaceutical or other has to top the list for the one with the most reported side effects: that stands to reason. This time it was  a vaccine and, in fact,  this is not surprising. As O’Brien states,

“The vaccine that protects girls against cervical cancer – the HPV vaccine – was responsible for the third highest number of reactions…[followed] vaccines used in childhood immunisation.”

There’s a pretty good reason for the high number of reports: the size of the population receiving the product and the fact that parents of young children, quite rightly, will seek medical advice for their babies  more readily than they would for themselves. Doctors are duty bound to pass on reports parents make  in relation to vaccination or any other drug administered whether or not the symptoms or conditions reported are indeed the result of administering said drug or vaccine.

The  panic merchants in the media are reporting this story as if it were an ongoing issue with the ‘flu vaccine, even tough Pandemrix is no longer in use in Ireland. What is so often lacking, amid the hysteria surrounding vaccines, is reporting of the very real and far more frequent complications of the infections which they prevent. In the case of influenza, this can include a consequence far more serious than narcolepsy: death.


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