A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter.
The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.
It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine.
GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.
The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications.
It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:
- More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
- 500 cases of GBS were detected.
- The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
- The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
- The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.
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Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown.
It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October.
Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.
The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out.
One senior neurologist said last night: I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk.
There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the 1976 debacle in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people more than the virus itself.
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A mass vaccination was given the go-ahead by President Gerald Ford because scientists believed that the swine flu strain was similar to the one responsible for the 191819 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20 million people worldwide.
Within days, symptoms of GBS were reported among those who had been immunised and 25 people died from respiratory failure after severe paralysis. One in 80,000 people came down with the condition. In contrast, just one person died of swine flu.
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More than 40 million Americans had received the vaccine by the time the programme was stopped after ten weeks. The US Government paid out millions of dollars in compensation to those affected.
The swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus, but the possibility of an increased incidence of GBS remains a concern.
Shadow health spokesman Mike Penning said last night: The last thing we want is secret letters handed around experts within the NHS. We need a vaccine but we also need to know about potential risks.
Our job is to make sure that the public knows whats going on. Why is the Government not being open about this? Its also very worrying if GPs, who will be administering the vaccine, arent being warned.
Two letters were posted together to neurologists advising them of the concerns. The first, dated July 29, was written by Professor Elizabeth Miller, head of the HPAs Immunisation Department.
It says: The vaccines used to combat an expected swine influenza pandemic in 1976 were shown to be associated with GBS and were withdrawn from use.
August 17, 2009