Narcolepsy/cataplexy caused by the 2009-10 pandemic swine flu vaccine

The background

In 2009 there was a global pandemic of swine flu. There were fears that the pandemic might be serious. In the UK the government commissioned GSK to manufacture a vaccine to immunise the population against the pandemic. The vaccine was known as “Pandemrix”.

GSK had previously created a pandemic vaccine against bird flu (H5N1). GSK adapted that vaccine for use in the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. The vaccine contained an adjuvant (to stimulate the immune response) which meant that 4 times as many doses of vaccine could be produced with the same amount of antigenic material.

Pre-market clinical testing of the vaccine (especially in children) was extremely limited (or non-existent). GSK obtained an indemnity from the UK government as part of the supply contract so that in the event that it faced claims as a result of adverse reactions to the vaccine, then it could obtain reimbursement for any outlay from the UK government.

The vaccination campaign started in October 2009 and initially focussed on “at risk” groups (such as asthmatics) and healthcare workers.

In the end, it transpired that the swine flu virus was no more virulent than the annual seasonal strains of flu. Pandemrix was used in Ireland, Sweden, Finland and many other European countries as well as the UK.

By the summer of 2010, there were reports of unusual numbers of children being diagnosed with narcolepsy and a connection was made that they had all received Pandemrix. The pandemic swine flu vaccine campaign was stopped in the UK August 2010, and by that time the pandemic was also largely considered to be over.

Epidemiological studies were subsequently carried out around the world. These have shown that there is a significantly increased risk (particularly in children) between Pandemrix vaccine and narcolepsy.

In February 2013 the UK Health Protection Agency published a press release which accepted that a study published in the British Medical Journal had established a link between Pandemrix and narcolepsy in children.

In September 2013 the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions reversed his earlier adjudication that Pandemrix did not cause narcolepsy, thereby confirming that the UK government accepted that there was a link.


There are 2 routes to compensation in the UK :-

  • A claim to the DWP under the Vaccine Damage Payment Act 1979. Under this scheme a fixed compensation payment of £120k is payable, free of tax
  • A claim against GSK under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The CPA makes a producer of a defective product liable for injury and loss caused without the need to show negligence. A product is defective if not as safe as consumers are reasonably entitled to expect. Full compensatory damages may be awarded by a court plus legal costs

Progress so far

Applications for compensation under the DWP scheme were originally refused on the basis that it was not accepted that Pandemrix causes narcolepsy. However in September 2013, the Secretary of State accepted that it had caused narcolepsy in some children. The same concession has not yet been made re adults.

Currently no awards have been made by the DWP on the grounds that narcolepsy is not a severe disability. We successfully appealed that decision to the First Tier Tribunal in August 2014. The DWP have appealed against that ruling and their appeal was heard in the Upper Tribunal on 2nd March 2015 and a decision is currently pending.

GSK had formally denied liability under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 on the grounds that they do not accept there is a causal link, that in the context of the pandemic, consumers did not have a right to expect this not to happen, and that they could not have detected the defect with the vaccine, despite the most advanced state of scientific and technical knowledge.

However, despite the formal denial, there are talks ongoing with a view to a resolution of the claims.

Making a claim

If you or a member of your family now have narcolepsy after having received Pandemrix® you may have a claim to very substantial compensation. However strict time limits apply and if you delay in making a claim there is a risk your claim may go out of time and you may not receive compensation which you would have received had you pursued a claim earlier.

We therefore strongly recommend you contact our expert team. We are now acting for 68 Claimants all UK residents when vaccinated.

Legal aid has been granted to fund the civil claim.

Please contact

Peter Todd
Hodge Jones & Allen
Direct line 0207 8748 8467

for further advice and assistance regarding compensation and how to proceed.

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