TEMPORALITIES AND ONTOLOGIES OF HARM: The 2009 H1N1 Pandemic and the Case of Vaccine-Associated Narcolepsy

Department of Anthropology
Venla Oikkonen

This presentation introduces the initial findings of my new research project on cultural debates about vaccines. The paper focuses on the debates surrounding the connection between the Pandemrix vaccine used in the mass vaccinations in Europe during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the reported increase in narcolepsy among vaccinated children especially in Finland, Sweden, Ireland and the UK. I analyze how Pandemrix-associated narcolepsy emerges as a biomedical, material and social phenomenon through bioscientific research, public health reports, media texts, and patient activism and advocacy. In particular, I ask how the contested ontology of vaccine-associated narcolepsy is entangled with competing assumptions of communal, national, personal and global futures. Through this case study, I address the larger dynamics of futurity and temporality that underlie pandemic preparedness and pandemic vaccination programs.


Venla Oikkonen is Research Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki. Her research is situated at the intersection of feminist science and technology studies and feminist cultural studies. Her research interests include affect, narrative, intersectionality, genetic ancestry, human evolution, vaccine controversies, and pandemic preparedness. She is the author of two books, Population Genetics and Belonging: A Cultural Analysis of Genetic Ancestry (Palgrave Macmillan 2018) and Gender, Sexuality and Reproduction in Evolutionary Narratives (Routledge 2013).