Wikimedia Commons, Grook Da Oger

Wikimedia Commons, Grook Da Oger

During a H1N1 widespread vaccination effort in 2009, children who were immunized with GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix vaccine appeared to have an increased rate of developing narcolepsy, a chronic brain disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles.

Pandemrix was never used in the United States, and was eventually pulled off

the market abroad. The reports of narcolepsy in Finland sparked conversation about vaccine safety.

The peptide found in the influenza strain shares a similar sequence of proteins with a surface-exposed peptide in a human receptor that normally binds hypocretin, the wakefulness peptide.

Dr. Larence Steinman and colleagues of Stanford University used blood samples from patients with vaccine-associated narcolepsy and found that 17 out of 20 harbored antibodies capable of reacting both to the flu and to the narcolepsy linked receptors. However, these same antibodies were found in 5 of 20 blood samples from patients who were infected with swine flu in 2009, suggesting a viral related cause of narcolepsy rather than a vaccination related cause. These findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Dr. Larence Steinman has said himself, “the study shows that having the antibody may be part of the pathophysiology but by itself is not sufficient to result in clinical narcolepsy.”


The Scientist Press Realease:


S.S. Ahmed et al. “Antibodies to influenza nucleoprotein cross-react with human hypocretin receptor 2,” Science Translational Medicinedoi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aab2354, 2015.

 Azvolinsky, Anna. “On the Flu Vax–Narcolepsy Link.” TheScientist. N.p., 1 July 2015. Web. 2 July 2015.