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Malcolm is a little unwell: The story of a deadly yellow fever vaccine

A journalist for 43 years, Malcolm Brabant has been in war zones, unharmed, with bombs going off around him, however one little jab of Stamaril, a yellow fever vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, almost killed him.

It has been 8 years since Malcolm Brabant, a BBC foreign correspondent for over 30 years and a multi award-winning journalist was shot with a vaccine that made his head spin, sending him into a dark abyss of psychosis, to a secure psychiatric ward in hospital for 15 months.

Malcolm Brabant, Trine Villeman and son Lukas at Cambridge Film Festival

The News Tribe contacted Malcolm in the UK to talk about his extraordinary story, which is due to be released in a hair-raising documentary filmed by himself and his wife Trine Villeman, also a journalist, during his struggle with the vaccine imposed madness.

The vaccine was a requirement to go into West Africa, for an assignment commissioned by UNICEF to do a series of films on child soldiers.

“I was given the vaccination at a clinic in Athens. I was told by the nurse that I might experience flu like symptoms but nothing worse. Within eighteen hours of receiving the shot, I was burning up. For thirteen days, my temperature was consistently around the 40-degree centigrade mark. The doctors were unable to bring down the fever. I was unable to sleep. According to the doctor treating me, the live virus in the vaccine caused the fever, which led to the psychosis.” Malcolm recalls.

Many of us cannot comprehend what it would mean to suddenly go insane. We asked him to describe some of the darkest moments of the nightmare that even his 12-year-old son Lukas had to witness.

“Initially I thought I was Christ. I could hear voices of my friends who had died tragically covering the Siege in Sarajevo with me. They were giving me instructions to prove that I was the Messiah. They ‘made me’ drink my own urine, clean my teeth with a toilet brush. They even told me to eat my own excrement, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I made my wife dress me in a sheet like a loin cloth so I could look like Christ,” Malcolm explained. An agnostic in his beliefs, this was totally out of character for him.

Malcolm Brabant and Trine Villeman at hospital

“Six months after receiving the vaccine, the madness flipped from the euphoric mania of believing I was Christ, to the depression of being convinced I was the Devil. This was the most painful period. I was convinced that my transition to being Lucifer had condemned my family to death. The depression was so deep at this stage that it almost killed me. The mental health professionals were powerless to stop my decline. At one stage, I was convinced that the Devil had impregnated me and that I was going to give birth to his child. Just before New Year’s Eve in 2011, I started hearing voices telling me that the world was going to end at midnight, and the only way I could save the world and my family was to kill myself. So, I tried to hang myself with a shoelace in secure ward 811 of Copenhagen’s main psychiatric hospital. But a nurse came in and found me, and I was sedated and placed under guard,” Malcom said while speaking to The News Tribe.

As Malcolm’s insanity took over their lives, Trine had to hold the family fort. “I still cannot find the words to describe what it was like watching my once healthy and robust husband disintegrate mentally before my very eyes. Having worked on the documentary, I have at times been overcome by profound sadness, almost like a physical pain, when I had to re-visit that desperate time in our life. And the scene in the documentary where Lukas witnesses Malcolm’s psychotic collapse is still very, very hard for me to get through. I cry every time I watch it.”

Trine also investigated the vaccine, and found it came from a faulty batch. The World Health Organization, born to protect consumer health and supposedly to document adverse events involving medication, did not offer her much information except that over a 10-year period there were more than 400 cases of mental problems resulting from the Stamaril vaccine. None from Africa, suggesting that there were no measures in place to document vaccine accidents there.

Sanofi Pasteur the vaccine manufacturer took no responsibility for Malcolm’s descent into insanity, despite extremely well documented evidence. “From the very first to the very last doctor involved in my husband’s care, they have all stated that the vaccine caused my husband’s psychosis. We have shared his medical records with the vaccine-maker Sanofi Pasteur and yet they continue to hide behind carefully worded statements and won’t even meet with us,” Trine said with anger.

Their struggle is more than just a show of strength and resilience, it is an inspirational love story. “My love for my husband, and the fury that no one would take responsibility for what happened to him, made me furious, and kept me going on days when Malcolm was sitting in a locked-up secure psychiatric ward rocking back and forth insisting that he was the Devil.”

Though Malcolm has completely recovered and back to himself again, Trine and Lukas are still mentally and emotionally shaken by the episode and are still suffering. “I dare not look forward to anything anymore and Lukas is still not ready to talk about his mental health. I do hope that the film helps to de-stigmatize mental illness.”

Malcolm hopes the film will inspire people to fight against overwhelming odds and to embarrass Sanofi Pasteur into investigating the fault with the yellow fever vaccine and correcting it.

The film Malcolm is a little unwell, will be available for download on iTunes on the 8th of January.

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