Mother would not have allowed vaccine use with prior knowledge, court hears

Pandemrix swine flu vaccine

The mother of a 26-year-old woman who says she developed narcolepsy from the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine ten years ago, has said she would not have allowed her daughter to get it if she had known then what she now knows about it.

Mary Bennett was giving evidence in the action taken by Aoife Bennett of Lakelands, Naas in County Kildare, against the Minister for Health, the HSE, the manufacturer of the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Ms Bennett described her daughter, Aoife, who is one of quadruplets, as a wonderful girl. She loved school and played lots of sports.

She said she and her husband, who worked in the HSE, were very "pro vaccination". In September and October 2009, she said she became aware from listening to the radio and reading the papers that there was a swine flu pandemic across Europe.

She said it was recommended that certain groups, including school children should get the vaccine. She said she saw it as her responsibility to get the children vaccinated.

Ms Bennett said she had also heard the Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan being interviewed on radio and saying the vaccine was safe. She said she expected the vaccine would have been tested on all the age groups it was going to be given to.

She said she would not have given it to Aoife or any of her children if she had known that it wasn't tested on their age group, that it was using a brand new adjuvant or that the pandemic was almost over.

Aoife received the vaccine in December 2009 as part of a vaccination programme in the school.

Her mother told the court that by the Christmas holidays, her daughter was becoming "tireder and tireder" and she described this as absolutely unusual. By January she was unable to get out of bed in the morning, was unable to attend training and was missing school.

She collapsed for the first time in April 2010, breaking a front tooth as she fell in the shower.

Ms Bennett said a neurologist thought the problem might be psychiatric but counselling and psychology appointments did not help. She said the breakthrough happened when she saw a newspaper article in March 2011 about someone with the same symptoms as her daughter who had also had the vaccine and had been diagnosed with narcolepsy.

Aoife was diagnosed at the end of April 2011.

Narcolepsy is an incurable autoimmune disease. The court has also heard Aoife Bennett suffers excessive daytime sleepiness and episodes of sudden weakness known as cataplexy.

Aoife's senior counsel, Jonathan Kilfeather, put it to Ms Bennett that GSK denied any link had been found between Pandemrix and narcolepsy. Ms Bennett said she had heard that but did not believe it.

She broke down briefly when asked to describe the toll Aoife's illness had taken on the family.

Under cross examination by lawyers for the Minister and the HSE, Ms Bennett said she had received a consent form and an information leaflet about the vaccine through the school. She said she trusted the state and didn't feel the need to look up further information about the vaccine online.

She told Senior Counsel, Maurice Collins, that she was "just a parent". She understood the vaccine was safe but now knew it hadn't been tested on Aoife's age group.

She said no parent she knew was going to look up the WHO website for a vaccination programme coming into the school.

Mr Collins put it to her that the vaccine had gone through testing and authorising and that there was data available to the regulator before a decision was made to authorise it for use.

He said it was not something "found on the side of the road". When Ms Bennett replied that it had still given more than 1000 children narcolepsy, he said this was a matter of dispute.

Ms Bennett has yet to be cross examined by lawyers for GSK and for the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

The case is due to last ten weeks in total.

Orla O’Donnell

RTE News