By Alex Berntstein
After many years of misinformed presumptions regarding the safety of life saving vaccines, a recent breakout of narcolepsy in Europe does appear to hold an alarming association with a newly released British swine flu vaccine. Since being inoculated with GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix H1N1 vaccine in response to the 2009 outbreak, nearly 800 children in Europe (primarily Sweden and Finland) have developed narcolepsy, an acute sleeping disorder that induces such debilitating symptoms as night terrors, and daytime drowsiness.
The dejecting reality for many families who have been struck with this malady is the permanent nature of this disorder. No cure is known, and the actual cause has yet to be properly identified and understood. A cocktail of sleeping pills, stimulants such as Ritalin, and antidepressants like Prozac can only attempt to treat the symptoms and ease the pain. And the pain is in fact great as the crippling symptoms destroy all hope of even the semblance of a normal life. Usually however, Narcolepsy is a particularly rare disorder that afflicts only around 1 out of 100,000 individuals. Yet, Science Nordic reports that among those who received the 2009 vaccine, the odds of children developing Narcolepsy appear to have been increased between 4-9 times. A dramatic increase in narcolepsy in Sweden triggered the alarm of the scientific community as the nation saw 168 new cases (150 of which were under the age of 18) since the administration of the H1N1 vaccine. Scientists who met at a special conference sanctioned by the Danish National Institute for Health Data and Disease Control have yet to determine the exact link of causation between the vaccine and its devastating side effect.
A genetic disposition theory is, however, in the works. Danish National Institute for Health Data and Disease Control (SSI) consultant Thyra Grove Krause reports, “Our hypothesis is that Pandemrix doesn’t directly cause narcolepsy; rather, it triggers the disorder in people who are predisposed to it.” All such hypothesizing is still inconclusive. Furthermore the administering of Pandemrix in Canada with no such increased narcolepsy rates further muddle the situation. A possible Nordic genetic predisposition may however be an explanation. Scientists do know that narcolepsy is associated with a lack of hypocretin (orexin), which is a neurotransmitter that determines wakefulness. Certain genetic predispositions to narcolepsy involving a variation of the HLA gene have been reported. Currently, the primary suspect for vaccine’s triggering of narcolepsy is its adjuvant system. More specifically, the shark liver derived squalene-containing ASO3 that is the reason for ban on the vaccine in the United States.
Nevertheless, the connection is quite clear as narcolepsy expert and Stanford professor Emmanuel Mignot points out “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.”