Two letters from the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency to top neurologists, sent on the eve of a massive vaccination program against the H1N1, or swine flu, virus and leaked to a British newspaper, warn doctors to watch for an increase in cases of a fatal brain disorder which could be triggered by the vaccine.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal, London’s Mail on Sunday reported.
The first round of immunizations is scheduled for October and is set to treat 13 million pople, giving priority to “everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.”
Already, concerns have been raised over insufficient testing and lack of knowledge about the new vaccine’s effect on children.
The HPA letters, sent to 600 neurologists, cite the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the U.S. in 1976 that caused more fatalities than the influenza.
During the 10-week period the vaccine was administered, 500 cases of GBS were identified. Immunization for swine flu increased the chances of being stricken by GBS by a factor of 8. Although the vaccine was withdrawn when the connection was made, the U.S. government paid millions to settle suits by those injured or killed.
The HPA’s reference to GBS has some health professionals concerned the upcoming vaccination program could become a repeat of what has become known as the “1976 debacle,” despite the fact that the swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus.
“I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk,” a senior neurologist told the Mail.
The HPA letters noted the lack of testing on the new vaccine and called on neurologists to monitor and report every incident of GBS so the product could be withdrawn if problems were identified.
Vaccine experts expressed both skepticism and alarm.
“New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to,” said Dr. Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the Cochrane Collaboration. “It may be that there is a link to GBS, which is certainly not something I would wish on anybody.
“But it could end up being anything because one of the additives in one of the vaccines is a substance called squalene, and none of the studies we’ve extracted have any research on it at all.’
Jackie Fletcher of the vaccine support group Jabs, told the Mail, “The government would not be anticipating this if they didn’t think there was a connection. What we’ve got is a massive guinea-pig trial.”
GBS leaves nerves unable to transmit signals to muscles effectively, resulting in partial paralysis, primarily in the hands and feet. In serious cases, patients must be kept on a ventilator. Those who die from the disease experience paralysis of the respiratory system and suffocation.