‘State seems to want to fight all the narcolepsy cases, whatever the cost’
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has ruled out personally intervening to hammer out a broad negotiated settlement of the 100-plus cases facing Ireland over the Pandemrix vaccine and its links to the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
It came as State solicitors wrote to the families involved, setting a 28-day deadline to accept an offer for a fraction of their compensation claims. It some cases, this could amount to around half of what had been sought.
Families of children who say they developed major side-effects to the vaccine have reacted with anger to the deadline, which came after a landmark test case was settled last year.
Mr Donnelly insisted he has no legal authority to direct the State Claims Agency (SCA) as to how the cases should be handled - despite admitting the legal costs involved in the first High Court test case were more than €6.3m.
"The management of litigation against the State by persons alleging narcolepsy and/or cataplexy following the receipt of the H1N1 vaccine, Pandemrix, is delegated to the SCA," he said.
"I do not have any legal authority to direct the agency to deal in any particular way with a claim which falls to the SCA to manage."
The first test case was settled by the SCA in the High Court last year, with the second due before the High Court on November 14.
Mr Donnelly confirmed the legal costs for the plaintiff in the first action were €6.3m, which does not include either the State agencies' bill or the legal costs for the vaccine manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which the State is also liable for. Legal costs are now under adjudication.
"In relation to the State's legal costs, I am advised that these have been front-loaded in respect of the two lead cases and have not been finalised," he added.
Families involved in the controversy have repeatedly urged health chiefs to learn the lessons involved.
They stressed vaccines should be properly and fully tested before being introduced into public health systems.
The swine flu vaccine is now at the centre of multi-million narcolepsy lawsuits in the EU.
Support group Sound (Sufferers of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder) stressed that it is not anti-vaccine but warned the State has a duty of care to the public to ensure vaccines are tested and safe.
Drug firms are now racing to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.
When the swine flu vaccine was rushed into service before it had completed its research trials in 2009, the Government offered its manufacturer GSK a full indemnity.
Cork TD Pat Buckley has now demanded a formal statement from the SCA on its strategy.
Kildare teacher Aoife Bennett (27) was the focus of the test case which was settled by the State after a five-week High Court hearing.
Ms Bennett's mother, Mary, slated as "a national scandal" the manner in which the case was handled.
Support group Sound pleaded with the State to ease the plight of the 100 other families battling sufferers' narcolepsy.
"The State appears prepared to defend each case on an individual basis, notwithstanding the pain and stress caused to the sufferers and their families, and the outrageous costs of defending the Bennett case," warned Sound co-founder Tom Matthews.
"The State cannot justify its approach, either in terms of the protracted stress of legal proceedings for those affected or the demands on the public purse.
"These outrageous costs exclude the settlement with Ms Bennett.
"Sound is not anti-vaccine but continues to demand the minister fulfil his duty of care to those affected."