Sunday 19 January 2020

Woman who 'collapses like a puppet' due to narcolepsy sues over swine flu vaccine

Swine flu vaccine Pandemrix. Photo: PA
Swine flu vaccine Pandemrix. Photo: PA

A 26-year-old woman who was given a swine flu vaccine as a teenager developed narcolepsy as a result, the High Court has heard.

Aoife Bennett was 16 when she got the Pandemrix vaccine as part of a mass vaccination programme as the country braced itself for a swine flu pandemic 10 years ago.

This is the first case over an alleged link between the swine flu vaccine and narcolepsy, and is regarded as a test case for as many as a hundred other cases due before the High Court.


Ms Bennett, of Lakelands, Naas, Co Kildare, a third-level student, has sued the Health Minister, the HSE, vaccine producer GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals SA and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The defendants deny the claims and liability.

Opening the case yesterday, her counsel Dermot Gleeson SC stressed it was not an anti-vaccination case.

He said Ms Bennett received the vaccine in December 2009, days before her 17th birthday.

Her narcolepsy was not diagnosed until almost two years later. He noted the sleep disorder is an auto-immune disease which is incurable, and means Ms Bennett suffers uncontrollable bouts of sleep during the day.

She can be "like a puppet collapsing during the day" and she once collapsed in the shower, breaking her teeth. The disease affects those with a certain genetic variant.

"If Aoife Bennett was in Newry rather than in Naas, she would not now have narcolepsy," Mr Gleeson said.

The swine flu vaccination programme, he said, cost €100m. Counsel said was the Pandemrix vaccine was never tested on teenagers.

"It was forgivable for the HSE to offer the vaccine," he said. "It was unforgivable not to tell Aoife and her parents what they well knew about it at the time."

He said the case against the HSE is about "not coming clean" on what was known about the vaccine.

The focus of the hearing is to decide whether the defendants, or any of them, are liable, arising from Ms Bennett having narcolepsy. If liability is established, a separate hearing will be held to assess damages.

The HSE ran a Pandemrix vaccine programme and the vaccine was administered in hospitals, clinics and schools.

HSE brochures on the vaccine, it is claimed, had the foreseeable effect of allegedly misleading those who read them as to the safety of the Pandemrix vaccine and the alleged risk associated with its use.

It is claimed the brochures contained purported advice which was not consistent with the actual facts, and that readers of one in particular would believe that everybody needed to get the vaccine, and that it was safe.

It is further claimed the health minister and HSE ought to have known that those who read the brochures were likely to come to an alleged erroneous conclusion as to the safety of Pandemrix vaccine and whether it had been adequately tested at all on children and adolescents.


GlaxoSmithKline, it is claimed, demanded an indemnity from liability from the State before it would agree to supply the vaccine.

Public assurances given in the media and to the Oireachtas that the vaccine was safe further prevented recipients or parents from giving their informed consent, counsel argued.

The HPRA, it is alleged, was well aware there was an alternative vaccine which had more clinical data available in relation to its safety and efficacy.

The defendants contend, among various pleas, that the Pandemrix vaccine was properly and validly authorised by the European Commission and was required to address the pandemic H1N1 2009 virus.

The case before Mr Justice Michael McGrath continues.

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