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Is There a Connection Between Pandemrix and Narcolepsy?

  • March 11, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

The rising number of juvenile narcolepsy cases in Finland and Sweden has researchers taking a closer look at the Pandemrix vaccine, but so far, no definitive conclusions have been drawn.

Researchers in Finland conducted an epidemiological study comparing the incidence of narcolepsy in patients aged 4 to 19 years old who were vaccinated with Pandemrix to patients in the same age group who were not vaccinated between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010. The results were startling. The results suggested that members of the vaccinated group were nine times more likely to contract narcolepsy. Similar studies in Sweden also show an increased risk of narcolepsy following vaccination. This seems like cut-and-dried causation, right? But before arriving at a conclusion, there are a few other things the reviewing body – the European Medicines Agency Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) – had to consider.

In several other European countries and Canada, where the vaccine is also commonly used, there has been no rise in incidences of narcolepsy. What could that signify? The committee decided that further study was necessary before a conclusion could be drawn, and cited that any number of factors could be at play. Maybe there are genetics risk factors for kids of Finnish and Swedish descent. It wouldn’t be the first time a genetic predisposition has been specifically targeted; Tay-Sachs is a good example of that. Or maybe there is an environmental influence that interacts with the drug, something in the water or the air that does not exist in other geographical locations.

The final results of the study are due in June of this year, but in the meantime, the committee has approved the vaccine for continued use, even in the affected countries. Even counting the huge increase, narcolepsy is an extremely rare disease. Incidence among unaffected groups is 1 in 100,000, and 9 out of 100,000 is still a tiny percentage.

By far the most interesting thing here is the questions it raises in terms of vaccine interactions. There is a huge potential for knee-jerk panic reminiscent of the flap over the MMR vaccine and autism, which was recently revealed to be based on a completely fraudulent study. For years, nervous parents convinced their children were damaged by the big bad drug companies waged a campaign against vaccine manufacturers. Countless lawsuits, an untold number of unvaccinated children at risk for life-threatening diseases, and thousands of frustrated parents with no answers more than a decade later, and the reason for the rise in cases of autism is still unanswered. The only real fact that suggests a connection is tenuous at best. Autism usually manifests in babies just about the age that most babies are vaccinated…and that coincidence is the basis for the entire fiasco.

Suppose there is an environmental or genetic component to the way our bodies react to vaccines? Just when we finally put the MMR question to rest, a whole new can of worms opens up. The potential for public hysteria is frightening. What do you think? Could there be external or genetic factors that interact with vaccines to cause life-altering results? Or are the increased cases of post-vaccine narcolepsy just a coincidence?

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