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Swine flu jab litigants offered €25,000 bonus to settle early

Ben Blackwell, 15, who has settled his High Court claim for damages, with his parents James and Natalie
Ben Blackwell, 15, who has settled his High Court claim for damages, with his parents James and Natalie

Extra payment from drug firm giant to 80 people affected by the vaccine if settlement is taken within three months

Eighty people suing the state and drug manufacturer Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) over side effects allegedly caused by a swine flu vaccine a decade ago have been offered a “bonus” €25,000 if they take a settlement deal within three months.

Last week Ben Blackwell, 15, agreed to settle his High Court claim for damages in a deal whereby he gets 50% of the value of compensation decided by an independent mediator. Blackwell will also get a “gold” medical card, and other supports valued between €200,000 and €600,000 that includes the payment of accommodation while he is in third-level education and childcare costs if he has a family.

The deal agreed by Blackwell’s team, including the €25,000 bonus for accepting within three months, has been offered to 79 other clients of his solicitor Michael Boylan who are suing over side effects allegedly caused by the Pandemrix vaccine administered by the state in 2009-10.

Blackwell’s was just the second case to come before the courts and the first involving someone who is still a child. There are 22 other children among the plaintiffs suing through Boylan.

In the High Court last week Dermot Gleeson, senior counsel for Blackwell, outlined to judge Kevin Cross the terms of the settlement agreed with the state, which had indemnified GSK as part of the agreement to make Pandemrix available.

Gleeson said that Blackwell’s case centred on his parents not being able to give informed consent in allowing their son to take the vaccine in February 2010 when he was four years old. The state and GSK have been accused of giving out wrong or incomplete information about the lack of testing done on Pandemrix’s suitability for children.

Blackwell is alleged to have developed narcolepsy and cataplexy, a rare autoimmune disease, after being vaccinated. He requires two naps a day while in school, is constantly tired, and suffers from the sudden collapse of muscle groups, which means he cannot do many activities such as sports or cycling.

Gleeson told the judge that Blackwell’s case involved “harsh criticism” of public health officials, including Dr Tony Holohan, who was chief medical officer in 2009.

The barrister said the evidence would include transcripts of media interviews given by Holohan at the time, in which he assured the public that Pandemrix had been fully tested and was as safe as regular flu vaccines. Blackwell’s senior counsel said this was untrue, as Pandemrix contained a new adjuvant, a booster ingredient that triggers an autoimmune response, which had not been used previously and which had not been tested on children.

Gleeson quoted interviews that Holohan did on RTE and Newstalk at the time in which he said Pandemrix was “fully licensed and clinically tested” and “like all other influenza vaccines, which have an excellent safety profile”.

On one radio show, Holohan said the adjuvant in Pandemrix was “nothing new”, but Gleeson insisted it was “completely new”. He added: “We say people weren’t told the truth.”

Gleeson said by the time that Blackwell was vaccinated, the swine flu pandemic was “entirely over in Ireland” and had not proven as infectious or toxic as initially feared. He said the vaccine was approved under emergency legislation which allowed it to be administered to children without having been tested. “It’s mind-boggling, but that’s what was done,” said Gleeson.

He said the health authorities also had information that Pandemrix was causing six to eight times more adverse reactions than another vaccine, Arepanrix.

The state’s barristers have said they were keen to run the case to protect the reputations of “distinguished public servants” who had unjustly been accused of acting “in bad faith”. Paul Gallagher, now the attorney-general, said in a hearing this year that the evidence did not support these attacks on public servants.

The legal costs of the plaintiffs in a previous Pandemrix case, that settled before the hearing finished, were estimated at €6m. The state has not revealed the costs of defending the actions.

The Times

November 2020