03 December 2015
by Gabriela Motroc

Settlement reached for Saba Button, WA flu vaccine victim

The family of a severely disabled Perth girl has been awarded millions of dollars to meet her care needs after a flu vaccination left her quadriplegic and brain damaged.

The Federal Court approved in June last year a confidential settlement between Saba Button’s family, CSL, the vaccine manufacturer and the West Australian government. Saba Button suffered organ and brain damage after receiving the Fluvax shot when she was 11 months old five years ago. Her parents Kirsten and Nick launched legal action in the Federal Court against CSL Limited, but the company cross-claimed against the State of WA and the Health Minister.

After Federal Court Justice Michael Barker accepted the confidential settlement, the Button family said it was a “massive relief” that the legal battle was over, because it allowed them to “supply Saba with the care, therapy, the equipment, all the things she needs to give her the best quality of life we can.” The girl can no longer walk and talk and needs round-the-clock care.

Saba was given a 0.25ml dose of Fluvax just before her first birthday in April 2010 and shortly after she experienced febrile seizures and suffered brain injury which left her a quadriplegic. Judge Barker said the vaccine was responsible for the girl’s disabilities, which left her with a shortened life expectancy and requiring permanent care for life.

Days after Saba was vaccinated, the Fluvax program was suspended after dozens of children were taken to hospital with adverse reactions to the vaccine. It is now banned nationally for children under five.

In the claim Saba’s parents alleged the vaccine was defective after testing carried out by the manufacturer prior to April 2010 concluded that fever was a serious side effect of the 2010 batch. Health Minister Kim Hames issued a statement following the settlement saying he wished the Button family well. After the girl was admitted to hospital, it emerged there had been over 100 adverse reaction presentations to the vaccination at PMH that flu season.

However, this information was not passed on to the general public until after the Button’s family baby girl was in the intensive-care unit. An independent inquiry concluded that the Communicable Disease Control Directorate of the Department of Health was “informed of a significant rise in adverse reactions in early April 2010,” but failed to take any further action while they collected information.

Two years after Saba Button suffered organ and brain damage, the Therapeutic Goods Administration of the federal Health Department released data which showed that Fluvax was four times more likely to trigger side effects in adults than two of its rival vaccines.

Kirsten Button said she was relieved the legal action had been finalized and even if “you can’t buy your health,” she admitted that “it is a good outcome” because it enables them to offer their daughter the care she needs for the rest of her life.