Medical Negligence

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Boy who said he developed narcolepsy after swine flu vaccine settles court case


A 16 -year-old boy who claimed he developed a rare sleep disorder after getting a swine flu vaccine has settled his High Court action.

The ground breaking settlement for Benjamin Blackwell, made without admission of liability, could pave the way for the resolution of 80 cases over the Pandemrix vaccine listed before the High Court.

The boy claimed he contracted the sleep disorder narcolepsy and cataplexy, an associated muscle weakness after he received the Pandemrix vaccine at national school when he was five-years-old.

His action was regarded as a test case for 80 other legal actions over the vaccine developed in response to the swine flu pandemic of 2009 and 2010.

The terms of the Blackwell settlement will now be available to those children and young adults who have sued over the vaccine, the High Court was told on Wednesday.

Dermot Gleeson SC, for the boy, said the settlement figure is 50 per cent of the value of the full claim before the court.

The amount the teenager is to receive will be put before the court on another date, counsel outlined.

Counsel said, as part of the settlement, it is agreed the same settlement terms are available to the children and young adults who have similar cases pending before the High Court in relation to the vaccine.

Counsel said there are extensive benefits in the settlement for Benjamin, including educational supports, accommodation costs in relation to third level education , a “gold” medical card and childcare costs.

The settlement will not be taken into account when assessing future disability benefit.

Mr Gleeson told the court Benjamin’s family are not anti-vaccine, “believe in vaccination and do not want their son’s case to be seen as anti-vaccine”.

The court heard Benjamin has to take several naps a day even at school where he sleeps on a mattress in the school prayer room. He cannot engage in sport and is exhausted every evening.

Approving the settlement on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Justice Kevin Cross said it was a very good settlement and had potential for the resolution of other cases.

Outside court Benjamin’s father James said his family were “pro-vaccine, pro-science and pro-transparency” . He said narcolepsy is invisible but it hugely limits what can be achieved in any one day.

The family were very relieved the legal battle was over, he added.

Benjamin, of Fairyhouse Road, Ratoath, Co Meath had through his mother Natalie Blackwell sued the Minister for Health, the HSE and Glaxosmithkline Biologicals SA (GSK), producer of Pandemrix.

GSK was previously given an indemnity by the State concerning any adverse reactions to the vaccine.

The action, which involved several medical experts, had been listed to last 16 weeks before the High Court but settled before the case opened.

In his action, the teenager claimed he was administered the Pandemrix vaccine on February 22nd, 2010 at his national school. Soon after, it was claimed he complained of occasional headaches and a high-pitched loud squealing in his head and his parents noted changes in his behaviour, including dramatic mood swings and that he started falling asleep at odd times during the day including at school.

In 2011, he went on his first Beaver Scouts camping trip and when his mother went to pick him up, she found him sound asleep in the middle of the camp field as all the other children ran around having fun. He had to be carried back to the car while asleep. He had ongoing problems with fatigue and narcolepsy was diagnosed in 2012. He now takes three scheduled naps a day including when at school.

Narcolepsy will require him to have a lifetime of medication and medical treatment, it was claimed.

It was claimed neither he nor his parents would have consented to the vaccination if various matters were made clear to them, including that Pandemrix had allegedly never been, or never been adequately, tested, on children of his age.

Other claims include that tests on Pandemrix were more limited and less stringent than the normal tests to which vaccines are customarily subjected to before public release.

By February 22nd 2010, an alternative swine flu vaccine, Celvapan, was available and was known by that date to be much safer than Pandemrix, it was also claimed.

It was also claimed full information and warnings in relation to the Pandemrix vaccine were not furnished to Benjamin Blackwell or his parents. Against the Minister and HSE it was claimed there was an alleged failure to warn sufficiently or at all, the known or unknown risks and the potential consequences of receiving the vaccine.

The claims were denied.

Following today’s settlement. Sufferers of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder (Sound) issued a statement calling on the State to offer similar settlements to all families affected by narcolepsy due to the Pandemrix vaccine.

Sound Secretary, Tadgh Kennedy siad, “Sound is not anti-vaccination and High Court proceedings have never been our primary focus.”

He added, “Health Minister Stephen Donnelly pledged to engage with Sound in response to Cathal Crowe TD (FF, Clare) at the Oireachtas Health Committee today (Wednesday) and we look forward to this engagement.”

The Irish Times