The danger of rushed vaccines: 1,800 people in Europe developed narcolepsy after having the swine flu vaccine in 2009

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Coronavirus made the fear of a global deadly pandemic very real for billions of people around the world with cities in lockdown, economies in freefall and more than 830,000 people dead.

The only real hope of getting back to normal is an effective vaccine that will protect people against Covid-19. Vaccination has been proven time and again to be safe and the best way of protecting populations against disease.

But like any medicine it is not without risk and the history of pandemic viruses are particularly worth consideration as the UK government considers changing the law to fast-track a Covid-19 vaccine and to grant pharmaceutical companies immunity from being sued.

The last time the UK rushed a vaccine into use it ended up costing taxpayers millions of pounds in compensation because of a rare complication linked to the Pandemrix vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to protect against swine flu.

Then as now, in the early stages of the pandemic, the Labour government feared huge numbers of deaths, hospitals being overwhelmed and society itself breaking down.

Ministers agreed to indemnify GSK so they could rush the vaccine into use and in the marketing information about the vaccine they did not fully explain how it had not gone through the normal checks.

Vaccinations started in October 2009 even though, by that stage, the UK government knew the pandemic was not likely to be as deadly as first thought. Publicity failed to mention the indemnity or the unique way the vaccine was approved by the European Medicines Agency.

Following a widespread vaccination campaign, the numbers of children and adults developing narcolepsy began to rise substantially. Around 1,800 cases of the condition across Europe have been linked to the Pandemrix vaccine.



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