Researchers have discovered that there may be a link between children developing narcolepsy and the Pandemrix flu vaccine.
Scientists from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) worked with research teams at two Cambridgeshire hospitals - Papworth and Addenbrooke’s - to look into narcolepsy in children. The study, which has been published in the British Medical Journal, followed 75 youngsters aged four to 18 who suffered from the sleep disorder and had been diagnosed after January 2008.
Out of the group, which had all attended sleep centres, 11 did not develop any symptoms until after they had been given the Pandemrix vaccine. And seven of the children started showing signs of narcolepsy within six months of the jab.
This led researchers to estimate that for every 55,000 children given the Pandemrix vaccine, one was likely to develop narcolepsy.
Medical professionals were recommended to vaccinate youngsters considered at risk of developing serious complications from influenza with Pandemrix in 2009-10 during the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. It was still used on occasion during 2010-11. The use of the vaccine has since been restricted for the under-20s across Europe.
Research carried out in Finland and Sweden in the past had already found evidence of an association between the flu vaccine and the neurological disorder. This prompted the HPA to launch its own UK study in February 2011, working with English-based specialists in narcolepsy.
The HPA’s consultant epidemiologist, Professor Liz Miller, the study’s lead author, said the research indicated that children who had been given the Pandemrix vaccination were at an increased risk of suffering from narcolepsy in the future.
She said their findings had supported the research carried out in Scandinavia but said there was a chance that the risk was actually lower than estimated due to children who had received the vaccine being more quickly referred for treatment.
She said people who have been given Pandemrix would have to be studied over a longer period to establish the risk more accurately. She added that the research had implications for the future use and licensing of vaccines during pandemics in the future.