Dozens of NHS workers are fighting for compensation after developing narcolepsy from a swine flu vaccine that was rushed into service without the usual testing when the disease spread across the globe in 2009. They say it has destroyed their careers and their health.
When nurse Meleney Gallagher was told to line up with her colleagues on the renal ward at Sunderland Royal Hospital, for her swine flu vaccination, she had no idea the injection she was about to have had not gone through the usual testing process.
It had been rushed into circulation after the swine flu virus had swept across the globe in 2009, prompting fears thousands of people could die. From the moment the needle broke Gallagher’s skin, her life would never be the same.
“I remember vividly we were all lined up in the corridor and we were told we had to have it. It wasn’t a choice,” she claimed. “I was pressured into it. We were given no information.”
The date was 23 November 2009 and Gallagher was one of thousands of NHS staff vaccinated with Pandemrix, a vaccine made by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Eight years later, her career in the NHS is a memory and she’s living with incurable, debilitating narcolepsy and suffers from cataplexy, a sudden, uncontrollable loss of muscle tone that can cause her to collapse without warning. Because of her condition, she can no longer work or drive.
People with narcolepsy experience chronic fatigue and difficulty sleeping at night. They can have night terrors, hallucinations, and a range of mental health problems.
Gallagher is not alone. More than a dozen frontline NHS staff are among around 1,000 adults and children across Europe who are believed to have developed narcolepsy after being given Pandemrix. Today BuzzFeed News can reveal for the first time their battle to gain acknowledgement for a government decision that they say ruined their careers and has dominated their lives since.