Federal Vaccine Court Rules Merck’s Gardasil HPV Vaccine Linked to Teen’s Narcolepsy

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Trey Cobb, who developed vaccine-induced narcolepsy after receiving the Gardasil HPV vaccine, recently won a significant legal victory.

The federal “Vaccine Court” ruled that he is entitled to compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. Cobb received his third dose of Gardasil at 14 and subsequently experienced severe autoimmune symptoms like fatigue, affecting his daily life.

Now 22, he continues to grapple with these symptoms. Expert testimony revealed that Cobb’s narcolepsy resulted from processes called “molecular mimicry” and “cross-reactivity,” where viral particles in Gardasil mimicked natural amino acid sequences, prompting an immune system attack on the body’s cell receptor sites, affecting wakefulness and sleep.

Cobb petitioned the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), a “no-fault” system for vaccine injury claims, and Special Master Katherine E. Oler ruled in his favor, though the compensation amount is pending.

The decision is seen as a positive development, although critics point out the lengthy and opaque nature of VICP proceedings. Cobb’s case exemplifies the challenges faced by those seeking compensation for vaccine-related injuries.

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His testimony shed light on the impact narcolepsy with cataplexy (type 1 narcolepsy) had on his social life, causing him to withdraw from events, leading peers to misinterpret his condition as unfriendliness or drug use.

The scientific basis for Cobb’s case lies in “molecular mimicry,” where elements outside the body resemble amino acid sequences within. Gardasil’s L1 capsid protein was found to mimic hypocretin, a neuropeptide that regulates wakefulness.

This mimicry led to Cobb’s immune system attacking cells producing hypocretin, causing narcolepsy. This phenomenon is known as “cross-reactivity.” While low-level autoimmunity is common, in cases like Cobb’s, it can escalate into an autoimmune disorder.

This ruling holds significant implications, as it marks the third instance where VICP recognized Gardasil’s potential to induce autoimmunity, setting a precedent for future lawsuits against its manufacturer, Merck.

Gardasil, listed on the CDC’s childhood vaccination schedule, falls under the category where vaccine makers are typically shielded from liability. Those seeking compensation through VICP often face a challenging, protracted process.

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Despite this, if unsatisfied with the outcome, individuals can pursue legal action against the vaccine manufacturer. Gardasil has been linked to various neurological and autoimmune disorders. Currently, there are around 80 cases against Merck related to Gardasil injuries in federal court, with more expected.

In August 2022, a panel ordered the consolidation of over 30 lawsuits against Merck into multidistrict litigation, streamlining the legal process. Cobb’s case bolsters the theories presented in this litigation, which is set to go to trial in 2024.

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