U.K. gov makes U-turn on link between GSK vaccine and narcolepsy

Evidence linking GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) swine flu vaccine to narcolepsy has mounted this year, with new findings from Finland, Sweden and the U.K. emerging. Now, having previously knocked back compensation claims, the data has prompted the U.K. government to accept the link.

The U-turn comes 7 months after a paper published in the British Medical Journal found a link between GSK's vaccine, Pandemrix, and increased risk of narcolepsy in English children. Data from the English children added to evidence from Finland and France. The U.K. study is one of several published in 2013 that has strengthened the link between the vaccine and narcolepsy.

Having turned down compensation claims last year, the U.K. government has reversed its position in response to these new papers. In a letter seen by the Guardian, U.K. welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith wrote: "It has been accepted that, on the balance of probability, vaccination has contributed to ... disablement." The newspaper expects Duncan Smith to make an official announcement next month.

Parents who believe their children developed narcolepsy as a result of the vaccine can apply for statutory compensation, a £120,000 ($192,000) tax-free lump sum for anyone with a 'severe' disability. Families may also seek compensation through the courts. Peter Todd of the law firm Hodge, Jones and Allen is preparing a case for some of the 100 people reportedly affected in Britain, and believes damages could reach £1 million ($625,000) per person.

GSK has an indemnity clause in its contract, Todd said, so the government will pay out if the case is successful. The government could also be hit with hefty legal fees. "Some of these multiparty actions cost endless millions. You can imagine the number of experts involved. We fill up the court when we turn up with these cases," Todd said.

- read the Guardian article
- check out Forbes' take