Field of Science

H1N1 vax and narcolepsy? Or not...

[Behold, vials of Pandemrix, possibly, potentially, putatively, conceivably, not confirmedly linked to narcolepsy in children. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Today's big vaccine news is a study out of Finland with findings of increased rates of narcolepsy among children who had received Pandemrix, Glaxo-Smith-Klein's H1N1 vaccine. Reuters, describing the research as "yet to be confirmed," reported that the study found that children receiving the vaccine were nine times more likely to develop narcolepsy than children who had not. Note that this H1N1 vax was used only when H1N1 was declared pandemic in 2009. It is not the combination flu shot being used this year.

Curious about what other entities had to say, I searched around for more information and found this report from the Press Association. Guess what? There is an unexplained increase in narcolepsy in the pediatric populations in Scandinavia, including Iceland and Sweden, where it is not restricted or correlated with children who have received this vaccine. Furthermore, this association, or "signal," as they call it in epidemiology, has not emerged anywhere else.

According to reports, 31 million doses of this vaccine have been administered in Europe and 90 million worldwide, and 162 cases of narcolepsy reported in Europe, most of them in Finland and Sweden. What remains unknown from these reports is whether or not the narcolepsy is chronic.

I can only infer from what I've found so far, including the fact that this issue has been examined in Sweden with, so far, no findings of a correlation. Thus, I infer from the information that in Finland, they found an increase in narcolepsy in the vaccinated population while in Sweden, they did not. In science, we call these results "mixed." As in, they're all mixed up, and we can't draw any conclusions from them.

That won't stop the headline writers of the world, however. Here is a round-up of incoming headlines to accompany this latest hazy, prematurely Internetulated information (will update as needed).

Today's WINNERS (tie):
ETA: Steven Novella has provided the following analysis of the WHO report here. (2/9)

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