Ministry investigates whether suspicions over swine flu vaccine side-effects were withheld
Neurologist to be interviewed
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has invited neurologist Markku Partinen to an interview next week over recent statements that he has made concerning swine flu vaccines.
Partinen, who works at the Helsinki Sleep Clinic, has said that a research group comprising Finnish neurologists has studied the connection between the swine flu vaccines and narcolepsy for several months. The aim of the group has been to get an article published in
the New England Journal of Medicine.
On Wednesday Partinen said in an interview with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) that the researchers did not want to go public with their suspicions because the article would not have been considered worthy of publication if its contents had been disclosed in advance.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health now wants to ascertain if the researchers violated their obligation to disclose important information if they have suspected that the vaccine has had serious side effects.
The ministry is also interested in the statement given by Partinen to YLE in which he suspected that officials would take the suspicions seriously only when they are published in a scientific journal.
The ministry’s Chief of Staff Kari Välimäki questions the validity of Partinen’s statements. “When reports of harmful effects have come, the THL [National Institute for Health and Welfare] has taken precautions. However, the study has not yet been published.”
According to Välimäki, the law is unequivocal: if negative side-effects of a vaccine are observed or suspected, a report must be made to THL.
At the end of June Partinen told THL about the observation made by the research group according to which there were more cases of narcolepsy among children than before.
“I noted that we need more information. We agreed that when we return from our summer holidays we will hold a meeting where we will ponder how to start dealing with the matter”, says THL Vaccine Department Director Terhi Kilpi.
The meeting was held last week. At the same time, similar observations emerged in Sweden as well.
Kilpi says that seven cases that had been noticed around the country had been included in the studies of Partinen and the other neurologists. She says that it does not appear that members of the research team would have wanted to withhold information. “If there were only a few cases that came to the attention of an individual neurologist, it is natural to think first that a coincidence was involved. Then as more suspected cases emerged, the matter was brought to our attention.” Kilpi adds that the failure to disclose the suspicions of side-effects did not have any significant impact on the reaction of THL.
Further confusing the issue was a report in the medical newspaper Mediuutiset, which wrote on Thursday about conflicts that had arisen within the research group. According to the publication, some of the doctors listed as contributors to the research article differ with Partinen’s account of events. Neurologist Ismo Ilveskoski of the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District’s Children’s Hospital told the late-edition tabloid Iltalehti that he had not taken part in writing the article. He also said that other doctors had been linked with the article without their knowledge.
Also taking part in the research was THL research professor Ilkka Julkunen. THL Director-General Pekka Puska says that Julkunen was not legally obliged to report on the suspicions that the group had because he is not a care-giving physician. Helsingin Sanomat was not able to reach Partinen or other members of the research team on Thursday.
Thus far Finland is the only country to have suspended vaccination with Pandemrix vaccine, though six cases of narcolepsy in persons having received the vaccine have also been reported from Sweden, and more recently a further six cases - three adults and three children - were announced in France.
At present, THL are aware of 17 suspected cases in Finland.
Across Europe, more than 30 people have received Pandemrix vaccinations against H1N1 swine flu: some 2.5 million in Finland got protection in this way.