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Editor's Choice

A tale of two vaccines

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 04 October 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4152

Rapid Response:

Re: A tale of two vaccines - how the British people averted disaster?

I have been looking at the MHRA's own report of the Swine Flu episode from February 2011 [1]. Even at that late stage its monitoring system had failed to pick up any significant adverse events and discovered only 4 cases of narcolepsy after European reports (p22). On p.16 it reports:

"As with most vaccines, the most common ADRs we expected to be reported were
headaches, dizziness, lethargy, and ‘psychogenic’ events (eg, fainting). It is therefore
not unexpected that nervous system disorders constitute almost 17% of all ADR
reports. The ADRs reported in this category raise no new safety concerns.
There is no indication that Pandemrix vaccine may be a cause of any serious
neurological adverse events. "

While the apparent failure of the MHRA detection system may raise eyebrows, and even the question what else they might miss, I also note the statement on p.3:

"Up to 18 June 2010, more than 6 million doses of Pandemrix, and more than 36 000
doses of Celvapan, were given across the UK. Out of these, there were 3400 reports
of suspected ADRs with Pandemrix, and 43 reports of suspected ADRs with
Celvapan. "

But on 25 September 2009 Fergus Walsh reported for the BBC [2]:

"The UK has contracts for up to 132 million doses of pandemic vaccine - enough for everyone in Britain to receive two shots."

In the end it was decided by the JCVI that one dose was sufficient for most people ([1] p.6), but it also looks like most people decided to give the vaccines a pass, reckoning perhaps that the risk from the vaccines was greater than the disease in spite of what they were being told by government officials. And who could say now that they were wrong?

[1] MHRA PUBLIC ASSESSMENT REPORT 'Swine flu vaccines and antiviral medicines: UK postpandemic
safety review', February 2011,

[2] Fergus Walsh, ' Vaccines for swine flu', 25 September 2009,

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 October 2018
John Stone
UK Editor
London N22