By Jo Macfarlane
Swine flu jab link to killer nerve disease: Leaked letter reveals concern of neurologists over 25 deaths in America
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The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.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.
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.
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 1918-19 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20million 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.
More than 40million 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.
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 HPA’s 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.
‘GBS has been identified as a condition needing enhanced surveillance when the swine flu vaccines are rolled out.
‘Reporting every case of GBS irrespective of vaccination or disease history is essential for conducting robust epidemiological analyses capable of identifying whether there is an increased risk of GBS in defined time periods after vaccination, or after influenza itself, compared with the background risk.’
The second letter, dated July 27, is from the Association of British Neurologists and is written by Dr Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, chair of its surveillance unit, and Professor Patrick Chinnery, chair of its clinical research committee.
It says: ‘Traditionally, the BNSU has monitored rare diseases for long periods of time. However, the swine influenza (H1N1) pandemic has overtaken us and we need every member’s involvement with a new BNSU survey of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that will start on August 1 and run for approximately nine months.
‘Following the 1976 programme of vaccination against swine influenza in the US, a retrospective study found a possible eight-fold increase in the incidence of GBS.
GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, leaving them unable to transmit signals to muscles effectively.
It can cause partial paralysis and mostly affects the hands and feet. In serious cases, patients need to be kept on a ventilator, but it can be fatal.
Death is caused by paralysis of the respiratory system, causing the victim to suffocate.
It is not known exactly what causes GBS and research on the subject has been inconclusive.
The HPA said it was part of the Government’s pandemic plan to monitor GBS cases in the event of a mass vaccination campaign, regardless of the strain of flu involved.
But vaccine experts warned that the letters proved the programme was a ‘guinea-pig trial’.
Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the influential Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that reviews research, said: ‘New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to. 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.’
He said squalene, a naturally occurring enzyme, could potentially cause so-far-undiscovered side effects.
Jackie Fletcher, founder of vaccine support group Jabs, said: ‘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.’
If neurologists do identify a case of GBS, it will be logged on a central database.
Details about patients, including blood samples, will be collected and monitored by the HPA.
It is hoped this will help scientists establish why some people develop the condition and whether it is directly related to the vaccine.
But some question why there needs to be a vaccine, given the risks. Dr Richard Halvorsen, author of The Truth About Vaccines, said: ‘For people with serious underlying health problems, the risk of dying from swine flu is probably greater than the risk of side effects from the vaccine.
‘But it would be tragic if we repeated the US example and ended up with more casualties from the jabs.
‘I applaud the Government for recognising the risk but in most cases this is a mild virus which needs a few days in bed. I’d question why we need a vaccine at all.’