Exclusive: Shoulder injuries caused by vaccine shots on the rise

October 26, 2018 08:37 AM

Flu season is here and everyone is encouraging you to get your flu shot but when you do, make sure to pay close attention to how it’s being given.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke has discovered a skyrocketing number of patients are reporting serious shoulder injuries caused by how their vaccination was administered.


Back in February, Rita Parks of Irondequoit went to her doctor’s office and had a routine vaccination.

“I was fine that day, no problems at all, it was the next morning I woke up and felt the pain,” she recalls.  

As the days went on, she realized it wasn’t just general soreness, “sharp pains, very sharp pains all the time,” Parks says.

Nine months later, after multiple visits to her primary care doctor, a neurologist, an orthopedic specialist, and a chiropractor, Parks can still barely lift her arm.

"Shampooing my hair, as you can imagine, is really torture," Parks says. "Drying it, in fact, my husband does a lot of that but worse of all, I have a two-year-old grandson and it just breaks my heart cause he'll come over and he wants me to pick him up and I can't so, I'll just go please put him on my lap."

Parks has a shoulder injury related to vaccine administration, known as SIRVA.

Typically, SIRVA is caused by improper technique by the shot-giver, either injecting the needle too high in the arm or using a needle that’s too long for a smaller frame. The improper injection typically causes inflammation in the shoulder joints which then leads to injuries.  

As the number of people approved to give vaccines grows, the number of SIRVA cases has too. We know that because there’s a federal fund that pays people who have been severely injured by vaccines.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is funded by a 75-cent surcharge on every vaccine. The no-fault program was intended to compensate those who experience catastrophic injuries or reactions caused by a vaccination but half of the new claims filed last year were for SIRVA.

“It's slightly easier to prove that your vaccine is related to your shoulder injury now and as a result of that, I think there's been a sharp increase in the number of petitions filed," says Kathryn Lee Bruns, an attorney at Faraci Lange. "So, you have to show that you have no other potential reason for experiencing the significant pain in your shoulder prior to having received the vaccination."

If you can demonstrate that, a federal judge will decide how much in lost wages, uncovered medical expenses and pain and suffering you’ll be paid. The current program allows for up to $250,000 in compensation per victim.  

But, here’s the issue... If you’re paid for a SIRVA claim, it’s a private settlement meaning the person who gave the shot that caused the injury isn’t notified they did it incorrectly so, they may continue to harm people.  

In a statement to News10NBC, a spokesman for the Health Resources & Services Administration says, “The Vaccine Act contains a confidentiality provision that prohibits the disclosure of information that was submitted to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims or the Office of the Special Master to a party without the express written consent of the person who submitted the information.” 

Bruns says she’d be happy to get that consent from her clients but the feds don’t even ask for it.

"Vaccines are vitally important, the solution to having less SIRVA injuries is to make sure the person who you receive a vaccine from has the proper education, experience, and training,” Bruns says.

So, if the federal government isn’t going to make sure of that, how can you?

Tatyana Tymkiv runs the flu shot program at Rochester Regional. She chooses to have only registered nurses administer the vaccine.

"They have lots of experience administering inter-muscular injections because that's what they're doing on a daily basis," Tymkiv says.

The CDC also recommends the shot be injected in the muscle tissue, not higher. An alcohol pad will be used to clean the area, if it feels too high to you, say something before the shot goes in. The shot-giver should also be parallel with you, they shouldn’t approach from above or at an angle.

It’s advice Parks wishes she’d known before her shot went in too high causing SIRVA.

"No one has said anything about if it's going to get better, when it's going to get better, how long it's going to take," she says. "At this point, I have no idea."

More information on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is available on the Health Resources & Services Administration's website.

Click here for information on proper vaccine administration.


Jennifer Lewke

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