Swine Flu, Pandemrix and Narcolepsy
Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D.
The swine flu pandemic of 2009 was caused by a type A influenza (H1N1) virus. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because many of the genes of this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. The H1N1 virus is genetically similar to the 1918 pandemic virus, as determined from victims of the latter who were buried, and later disinterred, in Svalbard. It was responsible for most of the outbreaks up until 1956 and then disappeared.
On 11 June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the swine flu had developed into a full-scale world epidemic — a pandemic alert to Phase 6. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, commented on the situation in a somewhat ambiguous way. While stressing that the swine flu had reached a serious pandemic level, she declared later in the same statement that the illness seemed to be mild and that most of the patients would recover without medical intervention. (Source)
The world chose to listen to the first part of her message.
Two pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novartis had, under considerable time pressure, developed a vaccine against the swine flu. Since the cultivation of an adequate amount of virus to generate the vaccine requires time, GSK and Novartis decided to formulate a weaker vaccine but strengthen it with an adjuvant that contains squalene. Immunologic adjuvants are substances, administered in conjunction with a vaccine, that stimulate the immune system and increase the response to the vaccine. (Source)
Although squalene is a natural substance found in methabolic pathways of the body, its inclusion in a vaccine is controversial and it is not in use in the USA.
The vaccine would be ready for use that October.
In Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland, the authorities explicitly set the goal of vaccinating the entire population. (Source)
In this respect, it is of interest that the governments of these countries, already before the outbreak of the swine flu, had concluded an agreement with GSK, according to which they were assured the delivery of pandemic vaccines, if needed. In addition, the contract stipulated that, in a situation characterized as a pandemic by the WHO, the same Nordic countries would have ten days to decide whether or not to accept delivery of the vaccine in question. Hence, the purpose of the agreement was to assure that the entire populations of these countries would receive vaccinations. Finally, the contract protected GSK from any claim for financial compensation in case the delivered vaccine would have any side effects.
When WHO declared the swine flu to be a Phase 6 pandemic, the agreement referred to above was automatically activated.
Mass vaccination started in Finland and Sweden in October 2009. In order to cover the largest possible percentage of the population, the authorities initiated an enormous public relations campaign, which could be described in terms of a “moral persuasion.” Solidarity became the slogan: “Be vaccinated to protect your fellow citizens.” Those who questioned the vaccination program (small groups of vaccine opponents or just people who were hesitant) were looked upon with disapproval.
In contrast to these vaccines — enthusiastic countries, the politics of vaccination within the rest of the European Union varied immensely among its member states. Poland, for example, decided not to buy vaccines at all due to the strict agreement conditions required by the pharmaceutical companies. Denmark’s order covered only “risk groups”. (Source)
The expected second wave of the influenza never appeared. The epidemic gradually declined during the first half of 2010. The same year, on 10 August, WHO officially declared the end of the epidemic.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) stated that the swine flu was less dangerous and had a lower mortality rate than the seasonal influenza.
Thus, apparently the swine flu would not have been a dangerous epidemic even without the mass vaccination.
Interestingly, also that same year, vitamin D was shown to prevent influenza in children. (1)
In Sweden, 60% of the population had been vaccinated, while in Finland 50% was covered. In contrast, the figures in Germany and Poland were only 8 and 0% respectively. In the history of Swedish health care this pandemic campaign amounted to one of the most expensive ever. Enormous amounts of taxpayer money were at stake. (Source)
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Meanwhile, the media had become silent on this issue; there was no further discussion about the swine flu anymore.
Then the blow came:
“The absolutely worst thing that could happen,” commented Richard Bergström, the Director — General of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, EFPIA. “The worst nightmare of both the industry and the health authorities is an illness that turns out to be mild, while the vaccine that was supposed to prevent a dangerous epidemic causes a severe side effect that was previously unknown.” (Source)
Narcolepsy is a severe chronic neurological disease that not only results in a disabling fatigue, which typically results in the patient falling asleep anywhere and at any time. It might also lead to panic attacks and a state of exhaustion. For many, the worst consequences are the symptoms of cataplexy. This condition causes the narcolepsy patient, when expressing strong feelings such as laughter or crying, to suddenly lose muscular control. The legs give way, speech gets slurred, the gaze goes unfocused and the person gives the impression of being drunk. In some patients, frightening hallucinations appear when falling asleep or waking up.
On 1 September 2011, the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) admitted, that for Finnish children and youngsters age 4-19, there was a new and obvious connection between Pandemrix and narcolepsy. As stated in THL’s press release, “The increased risk associated with vaccination amounted to six cases of narcolepsy per 100,000 persons vaccinated in the 4-19 age group during the eight months following vaccination. This was 12.7 times the risk of a person in the same age group who had not been vaccinated.” (Source)
In that original statement, the director of the THL emphasized that the squalene adjuvant could increase the side effects of the vaccine to some extent. However, he stated, these side effects would not be dangerous. (Source)
In Sweden, at least 150 children are now suffering from narcolepsy caused by Pandemrix vaccine. In Finland, the number is approximately 100. In both countries the number is probably growing.
Narcolepsy is a disease with lifetime consequences, and the risk that Pandremix may have caused other neurological illnesses has not yet been excluded. Many have already began to compare this tragedy with the thalidomide catastrophe. (Source)
No European countries had a particularly high rate of deaths due to the swine flue. Germany had the same death rate as Sweden, which was 0.31/100 000, although Sweden vaccinated 60% and Germany only 8%. This implies that the vaccine did little to prevent deaths. The responsible authorities have not yet commented on this matter of fact. (Source)
While Sweden did, indeed, follow the Finnish THL in admitting the connection between the vaccine and the disease, the Swedish authorities have not yet decided whether and how to provide appropriate compensation.
In February 2012, Svenska Dagbladet, a widely read newspaper in Sweden, presented an informative and accurate series of articles on this theme. They describe some of the affected children narrating how difficult it is to live with narcolepsy. (Source)
According to the authorities, much research is still underway concerning the details of the vaccine injury. Taking the pressure from the public and the affected families into account, it will be difficult for them to avoid carrying out a thorough investigation. Let’s hope so.
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