Woman suffered 'waves of tiredness' after swine flu vaccination, court hears

Pandemrix swine flu vaccine

A 26-year-old woman who developed the sleep disorder, narcolepsy, shortly after receiving the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine ten years ago, has said she got the vaccine because she believed it was her responsibility to do so.

But Aoife Bennett told the High Court she would not have consented to having the vaccine if she had known in 2009 what she knows now.

She said the state knew serious adverse reactions were happening by the time she was vaccinated, but she claimed so much money had been spent on the vaccine, that the state wanted to continue to use it.

Aoife Bennett was diagnosed in April 2011 with the incurable autoimmune disease narcolepsy. She suffers from excessive daytime sleepiness and episodes of sudden muscle weakness known as cataplexy.

She first began to suffer symptoms at Christmas 2009 after being vaccinated against swine flu with the Pandemrix vaccine earlier in December.

Ms Bennett is suing the Minister for Health, the HSE, the vaccine makers, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

It is the first case over an alleged link between the vaccine and narcolepsy and it is regarded as a test case for as many as 100 other legal actions.

The now 26-year-old, gave her evidence from a special chair beside the witness box and took a number of breaks during the afternoon.

She described how as a 16-year-old, she loved school. She said schoolwork came quite naturally to her and she played sports including basketball and volleyball, most days. She also ran for the school and a local running club.

In September 2009, she said there was an awareness of swine flu and they were reminded in school to use hand sanitisers and to take other precautions to avoid catching it and passing it on to other people.

When she found out there was going to be a vaccination programme in the school in December that year, she brought home a letter, a fact sheet and a consent form. She discussed it at home and she and her parents took a collective decision that the right thing to do was to get the vaccine.

She said she was aware there could be short-term side effects such as swelling or soreness in her arm and was concerned because she had a volleyball match a few days later.

At the vaccination, she said she went to read a brochure she had not previously seen, but was told by a nurse that she didn't need to read it as all the information was already on the fact sheet.

She said a nurse told her she knew her father, who worked in the HSE, and there was nothing to worry about.

Within a few weeks of being vaccinated she said, she began suffering from waves of tiredness and on Christmas day was absolutely exhausted.

She said she had never experienced this tiredness before and spent a lot of time in bed. When she went back to school in January she tried to continue as normal, but would fall asleep during after-school study.

She began to suffer strange sensations in her arms and legs and she began to fall over.

She was sent to a neurologist who told her symptoms were psychiatric or psychological and she was put on antidepressants. But she said she stopped going to psychiatric appointments and discontinued the medication as she knew it was not the right advice.

She tried to start 6th year but was falling asleep and having cataplectic attacks during school and eventually had to go back to fifth year.

She was diagnosed with narcolepsy in April 2011 after her mother read a newspaper article and she then had a sleep test done in hospital.

Ms Bennett told her senior counsel, Jonathan Kilfeather, that if she had known there was no "stringent testing" of the vaccine, that it had not been tested on 10-17 year olds and that the pandemic was much milder than first thought, she would not have got the vaccine.

She said a friend had swine flu earlier in 2009, but recovered and did not have to have the vaccine. She broke down as she told the court she had a strong immune system and believed she would have also have been perfectly well like her friend, but she thought it was her responsibility to get the vaccine so she wouldn't pass it to others .

If she had known of serious side effects, she said she wouldn't have put herself at risk and would have taken a chance on getting the flu.

Under cross-examination by lawyers for the Minister and the HSE, Ms Bennett said that by the time she got the vaccine, a lot more information was available to the state. She said it was known that serious adverse reactions were happening, but she claimed the state had spent so much money on the vaccine it wanted to continue to use it.

Asked by Senior Counsel, Maurice Collins if she remembered reading on the fact sheet about the possibility of rare, serious side effects and severe allergic reactions, she said she remembered discussing the vaccine with her mother, who also discussed it with her father.

She said they were reassured by what they heard from the state that it was safe, and she said she was reassured too.

The cross-examination will continue tomorrow.

RTE News