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Boy rushed to hospital after swine flu jab


The safety of Northern Ireland’s swine flu vaccination programme was called into question today by the parent of a young special needs pupil who ended up in hospital just hours after getting the jab.

Anne Marie Fletcher said she feared her 15-year-old son Rhys was going to die as she rushed him to hospital less than 24 hours after receiving the swine flu vaccine.

The teenager fell seriously ill after receiving the injection, along with thousands of other pupils across Northern Ireland last Friday. He was later diagnosed with swine flu.

“My husband drove us to Antrim (Area Hospital) and I sat in the back with Rhys,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“By this stage he was going into spasms. He couldn’t bend his fingers. I was absolutely terrified.

“He was rambling and becoming incoherent. I honestly thought he was going to die in the back of the car.

“He kept saying he wanted to sleep but I wouldn’t dare let him close his eyes because I was frightened that if I did he would never wake up.”

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The Public Health Agency, the organisation tasked with managing Northern Ireland’s response to the swine flu pandemic, has stated clearly that anyone suffering from flu-like symptoms should remain at home and contact their GP by telephone.

The experience of the Fletcher family from Carrickfergus calls into question whether Government protocols regarding the handling of swine flu are being followed. It is the latest episode to shake public confidence after the family of a Londonderry teenager who died with the virus was not informed she had it until after her funeral.

Some 2,500 children in over 20 special schools for severe learning disability across Northern Ireland were offered the vaccine last week after four pupils died with the virus this month.

The Fletcher family’s ordeal began on Friday, several hours after 15-year-old Rhys received the swine flu vaccine at Hillcroft Special School in Newtownabbey.

“I was concerned about Rhys having the vaccination but after what I heard about the four children with special needs dying after contracting swine flu I thought it was better to be safe than sorry,” Mrs Fletcher said.

“I took him into school on Friday and he had his injection. A few hours later he started complaining of having a sore arm. He also had a temperature and he was starting to cough. During the night he started to complain that he felt sick. He was up and down most of the night retching.”

Mrs Fletcher contacted the out-of-hours GP service and was told to bring Rhys to Whiteabbey Hospital. She expressed concerns about bringing him to a hospital in light of his symptoms.

“He was in a lot of discomfort and a lot of pain. He was surrounded by people and they were objecting about him being in the waiting area. When we were eventually seen we were told he had to be referred to Antrim Area Hospital.

“My husband drove us to Antrim and I sat in the back with Rhys. By this stage he was going into spasms. He couldn’t bend his fingers, I was absolutely terrified. He was rambling and becoming incoherent. I honestly thought he was going to die in the back of the car.

“He kept saying he wanted to sleep but I wouldn’t dare let him close his eyes because I was frightened that if I did he would never wake up.”

Following treatment at Antrim Area Hospital the teenager’s condition improved enough for him to be discharged, but several hours after returning home the family received a telephone call from the Public Health Agency.

“They mentioned that Rhys may have swine flu when he was in Antrim Hospital but then they said he didn’t have it and he was probably suffering from a reaction from the injection, although they said they couldn’t be sure,” continued Mrs Fletcher.

“We took Rhys home and just before 11pm we got a call from a doctor with the Public Health Agency who wanted to discuss Rhys’ symptoms. They phoned again about 11.10pm and asked me to bring Rhys to Dalriada (out of hours GP) to be tested for swine flu, but I told them I wasn’t taking him anywhere at that time of night.

“They phoned back later and said there was no urgency and we could bring in the morning, but I refused. I told them I thought people with suspected swine flu shouldn’t be taken to hospital and they said it was OK because they could see him in a private room.

“I was disgusted at this point and said I wouldn’t bring Rhys to hospital, so eventually a district nurse came out on Sunday to take some swabs. We got a phone call later on to say he had swine flu.”

Mrs Fletcher said she was horrified at the treatment her son has received and that she has serious concerns that countless other people have been exposed to the virus as a result.

“Rhys is still very listless and I’m worried he could become badly affected by the swine flu. He is on Tamiflu now but I’m also worried he could suffer side-effects from that as well.”

The Department of Health said it could not comment on operational matters, while the Public Health Agency did not provide a response.

A spokesman from the Northern Health Trust said: “We appreciate that this issue was brought to our attention. We cannot discuss individual cases but there is an agreed protocol for dealing with cases such as this. A number of agencies were involved and clearly the protocol was not followed as it should have been.

“We appreciate the concerns that this will have caused and we will examine the circumstances with our partner organisations to make sure this does not happen again.”

Meanwhile, the Health Minister has announced that the swine flu vaccination is to be offered to staff who provide personal care for pupils at special schools here.

The vaccination programme for children with complex special needs was carried out last week.

“The staff who provide personal care to the vulnerable children within special schools for severe learning disability are doing similar work as frontline health and social care workers. Therefore I believe that this move will further protect this vulnerable group of children and young people. I have asked the Public Health Agency to make arrangements to offer vaccine to this group of staff as quickly as possible,” Michael McGimpsey said.

Your questions answered

How can we be sure these new vaccines are safe and effective?

Pandemrix and Celvapan are both licensed vaccines. Similar vaccines containing another flu virus strain (H5N1) have been clinically tested in trials involving over 5,000 people. When it licensed the vaccines the European Commission carefully considered all the evidence and recommended that they could be used. The vaccine is not live and cannot cause swine flu. The trial and approval process has been quick with the first trials only starting over the summer. But this fast-tracking is not unusual for flu vaccines.

Are there any side-effects?

All vaccinations can produce side-effects such as redness, soreness and swelling at the site of the injection. Flu vaccines can cause symptoms like fever, headache and muscle aches, but they are much milder than the flu itself and only last a day or so.

Who can’t have the swine flu vaccine

There are only a few people who cannot have the swine flu vaccine. The vaccines should not be given to anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.

What about people who suffer from egg allergies?

Pandemrix is prepared in hens’ eggs in the same way that seasonal flu vaccines are. It should not be given to people who have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction after being exposed to egg products.

For more information on Swine Flu visit NiDirect

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