COLUMN: Ground-breaking narcolepsy settlement in important vaccine test case

This week's legal column

Gillian O’Mahony


Gillian O’Mahony


Tipperary Tipperary Tipperary

File photo

Solicitor Gillian O’Mahony, a partner at Lynch solicitors in Clonmel, writing on an important settlement in the High Court

A ground breaking settlement for Benjamin Blackwell, made without admission of liability, could now hopefully pave the way for the resolution of 80 cases over the Pandemrix vaccine listed before the High Court. This action was regarded as a test case for 80 other legal actions.

These cases arose over the vaccine developed in response to the swine flu pandemic of 2009 and 2010. 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.

The terms being proposed involve a number of factors that need to be considered. We are reviewing the terms for a number of children for whom we have issued High Court proceedings arising from the diagnosis of narcolepsy as a result of the Pandemrix vaccine.

Narcolepsy is the second leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
Diagnosis is often not made until many years after the onset of symptoms, likely to be due to both misdiagnosis by health care professionals or failure to seek medical advice about daytime sleepiness.
The main symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep.
Another symptom of Narcolepsy is a sudden episode of muscle weakness (called Cataplexy) triggered by emotions where a patient’s knees buckle and may give way upon laughing, elation, surprise or anger. In other typical instances the head may drop or the jaw may become slack. In severe cases, the patient might fall down and become completely paralyzed for a few seconds or up to several minutes.

An increased amount of children were diagnosed with narcolepsy after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine. It was introduced by the HSE with the intention of combating an anticipated pandemic called the Swine Flu in 2009- 2010.
The vaccine was given to more than 900,000 people in Ireland through HSE clinics and GPs as part of the Swine Flu vaccination campaign.
Studies suggest that children are around 14 times more likely to develop narcolepsy following the Pandemrix vaccination.

To meet anticipated demand when talks of a pandemic were at their peak, some manufacturers added a chemical booster to their product to speed up the manufacturing process, notwithstanding well-publicised concerns about the safety of these boosters. Normal vaccine licensing procedures were ‘fast-tracked’.
The chemical used in the Pandemrix AS03 Vaccine had not been properly tested in children; its safety having been trialed primarily on healthy adults age
nment came to an agreement with the manufacturers of swine flu vaccines that they would carry the legal risks in the event of patients experiencing any vaccine-related harms.
The vaccine first began to raise major concerns in Europe after revelations that the vaccine accidentally tricked the immune system into mistaking a chemical signal the body naturally sends to the brain to assist in regulating sleep for the swine flu virus.
Despite receiving updated information from manufacturers about possible adverse effects of the Pandemrix vaccine, State bodies continued to encourage healthy citizens to get the vaccine from HSE clinics and GPs without a review of the programme.

Overnight polysomnography sleep studies and multiple sleep latency tests and a lumbar puncture test.

Narcolepsy is a lifetime neurological disease with severe impact on school performance, quality of life, and employment.
Treatments at present only deal with symptoms and are often very expensive and difficult to obtain. Although the best treatments are helpful, they rarely completely remove symptoms.
We all eagerly await the approval of the Covid vaccine to enable us to return to some semblance of a normal existence. What we have all experienced over the last number of months has been hopefully a once in a lifetime experience .

The circumstances that gave rise to Flu vaccine cases and the way in which it was managed gives pause for thought. The narcoplexy cases offer a timely warning on the need for proper testing and the provision of information to any one taking the vaccine.

In the case of any vaccine the law requires, among other things, that proper testing be undertaken and that people be fully informed on the risks involved in taking the vaccine.

Time will tell how this current crisis will feature in our Courts.

Lynch Solicitors has a strong history of litigating medical negligence.
If you or a member of your family has been affected by the Pandemrix vaccine we will be happy to meet with you to explore the legal options available and discuss any potential compensation claim you may have arising out of receiving the vaccine.

If you would like further information, you can contact a member of our team on 052 612 4344 or at
The material contained in this article is provided for general information purposes only. We advise you to seek specific advice from us about any legal decision or course of action.