Back in the heyday of the Swine Flu pandemic when there was a very distinct possibility that we would have a pandemic of Spanish Flu proportions on our hands, Sweeden and Finland made the choice to speed up approval of an H1N1 vaccine called Pandemrix. Soon afterwards, they saw a marked increase of narcolepsy cases in children under the age of 20. Narcolepsy is a pretty rare condition so even a slight increase is noticeable. It is looking likely that Pandemrix is responsible for this increase.
In hindsight, it was a pretty bad idea to rush Pandemrix. Remember, though, the 2009 Swine Flu was a pretty scary event. It had many of the same features of the Spanish Flu. It attacked and killed healthy young adults, whereas regular flu mainly kills only the elderly and immune suppressed. It just happened that, for whatever combination of reasons, the Swine Flu never really spread that much. Only 18,000 or so confirmed deaths were reported. Compare this to the 250,000 deaths annually from the regular flu. Sweden and Finland made an educated decision based on the information they had at the time. That decision just happened to be wrong.
That would be the end of the story if it weren’t for the narcolepsy increase. Despite the headlines, this increase isn’t that big of a deal. We are talking about one incident in every 27,800 vaccines administered. That’s a 0.0036% chance of narcolepsy. Pandemrix was also used in other European countries, but there isn’t enough data yet to tell if there was also an increase of narcolepsy there as well.
Scientists are now trying to find out how the narcoleptic events occurred. It could be that Scandinavians have genetics that are more predisposed to narcolepsy. It could be some environmental factors are in play. We just don’t know. All we know is that there is a causal link between narcolepsy onset and the Pandemrix vaccine in children.
Yes, it’s unfortunate that some children are getting narcolepsy from vaccines. No, that doesn’t mean that vaccines are unsafe. Vaccines do, sometimes, have severe side effects, though. The chances of those side effects occurring are exponentially less than the chances of severe side effects from the disease they inoculate against.
Vaccines are safer. Vaccines work. Get your vaccines updated today. You may not be saving your life, but you could be saving someone else’s.