“At first our findings were taken to be flawed, but now they have been replicated in the other Nordic countries, the UK and France,” says Professor Markku Partinen. “No one denies the association any longer.”
Partinen is the executive director of the Helsinki Sleep Clinic and chair of the NARPANord Consortium. He has spent 30 years studying narcolepsy, an autoimmune disorder that causes people to suddenly fall asleep, rapidly enter REM sleep and often suffer from a loss of muscle tone.
Partinen explains that joint Nordic studies were also open to the possibility of the Pandemrix vaccine causing an all new illness similar to narcolepsy. No indications of this were found, however.
“A comparative study involving narcoleptic children in Italy, where Pandemrix was not used, demonstrated a link between the vaccine and the condition,” Partinen points out. The onset of vaccine-triggered narcolepsy may be fiercer than usual. According to Partinen, those affected were mostly children, because narcolepsy usually develops in childhood. Studies have found no links between narcolepsy and other swine flu vaccines.
Suspicions of an association between the swine flu vaccine and narcolepsy first emerged in Finland and Sweden. The explanation may be a statistical one: since Pandemrix was widely used in the Nordic countries, the side effects were also more numerous. “Who knows, the dark Nordic winters and other environmental factors may also play a part in this,” says Partinen. “We need further studies.”
People diagnosed with narcolepsy were found to have something in common: a specific HLA gene variant called DQB1*0602. “Interestingly, the same gene variant also appears to be related to other autoimmune disorders, such as a higher risk for developing multiple sclerosis,” Partanen states. “On the other hand, it protects against type 1 diabetes.”
Text: Mikko Pelttari
Translation: Language Services/Language Centre (University of Helsinki)
University of Helsinki, digital communications