To Vaccinate, or Not To Vaccinate?


Did you inoculate your child against swine flu in 2009? Researchers have now found that there may be a link between the swine flu vaccine and the development of narcolepsy in children who received the inoculation.

Whilst this risk may still be over estimated, studies from Finland, Sweden, and now England have shown an association between those inoculated and the development of narcolepsy.

By March 2010, following the pandemic, 24% of healthy children aged under 5, and 37% of children aged 2-15 in a risk group had been inoculated. However, the following August, there were concerns raised about the possible link in Finland and Sweden. Then in 2012, a study reported a 13-fold increased risk in young people aged 4-19.

It was thought, until recently, that this may just be restricted to Scandinavian populations, as the association hadn’t been witnessed elsewhere. But a new study has now been conducted in England to evaluate the risks in the British population. Case notes of 245 children (aged 4-18) were reviewed – the information was taken from British sleep centers and child neurology centers. Of the 245 reviewed, 75 had narcolepsy (and 56 of these also suffered from cataplexy – sudden muscle weakness that is triggered by strong emotions) with onset after January 2008. However, only eleven of these children had received the vaccination before the onset of symptoms (seven of these were within 6 months of receiving the vaccine).

With this in mind, it was estimated that receiving the vaccine was associated with a 14-fold risk of developing narcolepsy. Further than this, vaccination received within six months of onset was associated with a 16-fold risk. Researchers then went on to suggest that this means that one in 52,000-57,500 vaccinations are associated with narcolepsy.

As stated earlier, this risk may well be overestimated, however the findings do have implications for future use of the vaccine – possibly encouraging the use of different subtypes of the vaccination. But further research is needed to asses the risk more closely, and to determine the trigger for the risk in the first place.

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder, where the patient experiences excessive daytime sleepiness (to the point of actually falling asleep during the day). This is often accompanied by the symptoms of cataplexy.


Written by: Philippa Berry

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Published on: 27th February 2013

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