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.
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.