Almost 100 people who claim they developed narcolepsy after receiving the swine flu vaccine hope a landmark case could pave the way to compensation following a seven-year battle.
The Court of Appeal will this week consider a government bid to overturn a 2015 Upper Tribunal ruling that gave £120,000 to a boy damaged by the vaccine Pandemrix when he was seven.
The then-work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, had accepted that the trial vaccine caused the incurable daytime sleep disorder in the boy, now 14 and known only as “John”.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions denied his disabilities were severe enough to pass the 60 per cent threshold to trigger a payout under the Vaccine Damage Payments Act. This was rejected by the Upper Tribunal but the Government went on to appeal.
John’s lawyer Peter Todd, of Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents 88 of the 94 UK victims, said: “As narcolepsy is a spectrum disorder, there is a range of severity. John is probably at the most severe end. If he doesn’t qualify then pretty much nobody would.”
Victim: Katie Clack, who took her own life as a result of the incurable condition
About six million UK residents were given the vaccine during the 2009-10 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
At the time, no approved vaccine was available so the Government agreed to indemnify drugs giant GSK against future claims in return for the use of Pandemrix, a trial vaccine. At the time, the link with narcolepsy was unknown. More than 1,500 cases of narcolepsy allegedly caused by Pandemrix are registered on an EU database.
In the UK, only two sufferers apart from John have had compensation — Josh Hadfield, 10, from Somerset, and nursery nurse Katie Clack, 23, of Peterborough. Her award was posthumous after she took her own life as a result of the condition.
The Government appeal focuses on its belief John’s level of disability should be measured against another child of that age and exclude the impact of the disability on his later life as an adult.
The DWP said the Government did not accept a general causal link between Pandemrix and narcolepsy. It said: “We await the Court of Appeal judgment and it would not be appropriate to comment further.” Defeat for the Government would trigger civil claims against GSK. The drugs giant declined to comment.