LETTER: Narcolepsy rate much lower than flu mortality rate

Dear Editor

I note with some dismay in the Gazette of Dec 17, Karen Selick’s spirited defence MP Sloan’s wish to limit the Covid vaccine rollout (Reader appalled by factual ignorance, The Picton Gazette, Dec. 17, 2020). I don’t dispute her personal right to refuse any vaccine.

She notes the 2009 swine flu vaccine caused 1300 cases of permanent narcolepsy in Europe. There was no explicit link made to covid or flu vaccine safety but the seed of doubt was expertly sown.

There are several crucial facts about the swine flu/narcolepsy issue that were not revealed by Ms Selick.

She is correct in noting major spikes in the incidence of narcolepsy that occurred in Sweden, Finland, Ireland and England in 2009. This is a treatable condition that causes sudden sleepiness. There was no increase in incidence in Canada, the US and other European nations.

The country with the highest incidence of narcolepsy was Sweden, where less than 1 in 10,000 vaccinated children developed it.

The most important fact not revealed by Ms Selick was that the death rate from influenza in unvaccinated children that year was equal to or much greater than the narcolepsy rate. In fact, the child death rate from influenza in parts of the US was 10 times greater than the peak narcolepsy rate in Sweden.

So a fully informed mother had to choose from the following unsavoury choices: do I vaccinate my 10 year old daughter and risk narcolepsy, or do I accept a death rate perhaps 10 times greater if she gets swine flu?I know the choice I would have made.

In China and Taiwan, a spike in narcolepsy incidence was reported before vaccine introduction. Responsibility for the spike was ascribed to one of the three vaccines manufactured for the purpose.  One study showed that those who got narcolepsy after vaccination had a DNA mutation that causes this disease, even in unvaccinated people. The shot may have caused the disease to appear earlier than usual in a population already at risk.

Most opponents of vaccination rarely consider disease burden and vaccine effectiveness;  an author trying to sell a sensationalist book is quoted as expert and the full scope of research is mistrusted. The influenza vaccine is usually of mediocre effectiveness in preventing the flu, but it is outstandingly effective in preventing death from that disease. That’s what counts. Remember that when you get your flu shot.

As for the other vaccines, I am no expert, but as a family doc for 35 years, I witnessed the rare but terrible consequences of whooping cough, measles, mumps, chickenpox, and hepatitis. A child died in my arms with epiglottitis, a disease routinely encountered until a vaccine came out in the late 1980s. Childhood death from this awful disease is now almost unknown in Canada. Most Canadians have never heard of it.

And my most trusted mentor during training was a GP who unknown to anyone, had narcolepsy.

I hope these additional facts will allow the objective reader to diminish the doubt caused by that single paragraph.

Paul Kenny

Cherry Valley