£120k awarded to narcoleptic boy injured by vaccine

A boy who developed narcolepsy after a routine swine flu vaccination has won £120,000 in compensation for vaccine side effects under the government's Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme.

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Case details

The 10-year-old from Frome in Somerset developed the sleeping disorder after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine in 2010. The government initially refused the family's claim on the basis that the boy was not "severely disabled" enough.

Rare Reaction to Vaccine

The child was given the H1N1 "swine flu" vaccine in January 2010 when he was 4 years old. He began to show symptoms of narcolepsy, a disorder that causes sufferers to suddenly fall asleep during the day. He also reported symptoms of cataplexy, a condition that causes a person to lose consciousness when they experience extreme emotion such as anger, laughter or stress.

The condition means that the boy cannot be left unattended while bathing and must take regular naps during the school day. He is unlikely to be permitted to drive as an adult and may need to take anti-sleep medication for the rest of his life.

While some people are genetically predisposed to narcolepsy, the child had shown no signs of the condition before the vaccination. Believing that the narcolepsy was linked to the Pandemrix vaccine, the family sought compensation for the injuries.

Details of the Claim

The family originally applied for compensation under the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme (VDPS), a government-backed scheme that pays a one-off sum of £120,000 to vaccine-damaged people and their families.

Under the Scheme, financial assistance is available to those who have a 60 percent disablement or more. The level of disablement is determined by medical advisers acting on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Industrial Injuries Disablement Scheme.

The DWP admitted that the vaccine had caused the narcolepsy, but rejected the claim on the basis that his condition did not meet the 60 percent disability rule. On appeal, the tribunal concluded that the child was 72 percent disabled based upon his current symptoms. The tribunal was critical of the DWP's handling of the case which they said did not take into account the complete picture of the child's injuries.

What is Pandemrix?

Pandemrix was given to almost one million British children aged between six months and five years old during the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic, as well as to high-risk adults with asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

A possible link between the vaccine and narcolepsy was first suggested by commentators in Finland, where studies concluded that children had between a 10 and 13-fold increased risk of developing the condition within six months of receiving the jab. These results were backed up by further studies in Sweden and Ireland.

The most recent data available suggests that around about one in 55,000 vaccinated children may have gone on to develop narcolepsy. Pandremix is no longer used as a vaccine in the UK.

What next for vaccine victims?

The ruling is expected to bring fresh compensation claims from the parents of children affected by narcolepsy after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine.

The decision will be binding on all future first-instance decisions made under the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme. A greater number of families are likely to have their claims accepted, depending on the severity of the condition.

Read more: clinical negligence compensation claims

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher