Yellow Fever vaccine causes brain damage in BBC reporter

When award-winning BBC foreign correspondent Malcolm Brabant walked into a clinic one afternoon to have a yellow fever vaccine, he was warned the possible side-effects could be dizzy spells and a headache.

Yet within 24 hours of having the jab, in April 2011, Malcolm had been reduced to a sweating, shivering wreck, gripped by a fever so strong it took two weeks and a spell in hospital before his temperature was brought down.

Then the psychosis began. A shooting star, glimpsed from the balcony of his home, convinced Malcolm – who had no previous history of mental illness – that he was a modern-day Messiah.

‘I went completely bonkers,’ he says today. ‘The vaccine fried my brain.’

Malcolm, 59, who had the jab in preparation for an assignment in the Ivory Coast, believed his Kindle could fly, that dead friends were contacting him and that he could stop traffic just by thinking about it.

He spent the next two years in and out of mental institutions, unable to work – and even attempted suicide.

Fortunately, he has since made a full recovery. But Malcolm believes the yellow fever vaccine – available in High Street vaccination clinics, GP surgeries and even Boots – could have dangerous side-effects that affect more people than previously thought.

Since its invention in 1951, more than 540 million doses of the vaccine have been given. Anyone travelling to parts of Africa or South America is advised to have it.

Yellow fever is a serious viral infection spread by mosquito bites. Symptoms include fever, chills, loss of appetite and nausea. While many people recover after five or six days, 15 per cent enter a second, toxic phase, with recurring fever, abdominal pain, and jaundice due to liver damage. They may also start vomiting blood. This toxic phase is fatal in about 20 per cent of cases.

Clearly a dangerous illness, there is no doubt vaccination can be life-saving. But Malcolm and others who say they have been adversely affected by the jab want the manufacturer to investigate.

Malcolm, who for many years was the Beeb’s man in Greece, had the jab in a clinic in Athens, where his family was living. Next morning, his new wife Trine, found him downstairs, shivering and sweating, his face beetroot red.

‘I was beside myself with worry,’ says Trine, 55, an author and journalist. ‘It wasn’t just the fever but the change in character. He became irrational, then emotional – crying.’

When his fever showed no signs of relenting after five days, Trine took Malcolm to hospital.

The doctors, who also discovered through blood tests that Malcolm had suffered recent liver damage, told him they believed he’d had an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

They managed to lower his temperature. But his mental problems were only just beginning. Formerly agnostic, Malcolm became convinced he was Jesus, and two weeks after being admitted to hospital he was moved to a mental hospital and given anti-psychotic medication.

It was a harrowing time for Trine. ‘One day I visited him in hospital and he stripped off his clothes and asked me to turn the sheet into a nappy and put it on him so everyone could see he was Jesus,’ she says. ‘Doctors had told me not to upset him, just to do what he asked, so I did it. It was heartbreaking.’

After three weeks, Malcolm was discharged in May 2011, and seemed to be recovering, so went back to work. But within weeks he deteriorated again.

¬†Every doctor we dealt with said they thought he’d suffered an adverse reaction to the vaccine

Malcolm developed full-blown psychosis, and over the following months moved between psychiatric hospitals in different countries – in the UK, Greece, and eventually with money running out, in Trine’s native Copenhagen.

Read more:

BBC report on Yellow Fever vaccine deaths

Yellow fever vaccine fears

Concern has been raised over the safety of the vaccine for the deadly disease yellow fever following several deaths.

Scientists say research must be carried out to try to understand why some people are highly sensitive to the vaccine.

But they warn that the vaccination programme should be continued unless it becomes clear that considerable numbers are at risk.

Yellow fever, caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, kills up to 50% of its victims. Symptoms include high fever, jaundice, kidney failure, and low blood pressure.
The virus is common in tropical and subtropical Africa and South America. It kills a thousand times more people than the feared Ebola virus.

Vaccine programmes

Vaccination programmes have increased over the past 20 years as the disease has spread to urban areas in these settings. It is also given to protect international travellers.

The vaccine is made from a weakened form of the 17D strain of the virus. It has been regarded as one of the safest virus vaccines, with few side-effects or adverse events.

However, The Lancet medical journal contains reports of people from around the world who died after taking the vaccine.

Two deaths were recorded by a team from a specialist World Health Organization centre in Brazil.

In the first case, a five-year-old girl suffered fever, headache and vomiting three days after being given the vaccine. She died after a five day illness.

The second patient – a 22-year-old woman – developed a sore throat and fever, accompanied by headache, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting four days after vaccination.

She then developed symptoms including jaundice and renal failure, and died after six days of illness.

The cases were similar to a third fatality reported by the South Western Area Pathology Service in Sydney, Australia.

In all three cases the victims demonstrated symptoms of infection by the form of yellow fever virus found in the wild.

Further cases

Three further deaths of elderly patients were recorded by US scientists from the Centres for Disease Control, Atlanta.

In each case the victims suffered from fever, muscle pain, headache and confusion followed by a general deterioration.

However, unlike the cases in South America and Australia, the symptoms pointed to a new post-vaccination syndrome.

Writing in The Lancet, Philippe Marianneau and colleagues from Institut Pasteur, Lyons, France, suggest that the virus strain used in the vaccine may occasionally mutate, either before or after it is administered.

Alternatively, the problem may be that the vaccine triggers an inappropriate immune system response in some people.

They conclude: “The use of 17D vaccination remains highly advisable for people living in or travelling to endemic and epidemic zones.

“However, these three reports raise relevant questions about the mechanisms of attenuation (weakening) of yellow fever virus that should be urgently investigated.”

Safe vaccine

A spokesman for the Public Health Laboratory Service said: “The yellow fever vaccine is in fact one of the safest live vaccines.

“It is important to remember that many millions of doses of yellow fever vaccine have been given worldwide over more than 60 years, and the vaccine has an excellent safety record.

“In Brazil 54m doses of the vaccine were given between 1998 and April 2001, and just three of these possible serious adverse events were observed.

“Clearly, if this adverse reaction is indeed prompted by the vaccine, it is extremely rare.

“In contrast to this, the serious consequences of yellow fever disease are well-established.

“It is vital that those who need the vaccine continue to be vaccinated so that they are protected against the disease.”

The WHO has called for further research to look at this possible reaction to vaccine, to establish its frequency, and whether particular groups of people are more vulnerable.


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