For Latasha George, a nurse in Louisiana, getting a flu shot was nothing extraordinary or a matter of concern. However, what followed was something that she had not bargained for. Latasha ended up with SIRVA, a shoulder injury resulting from incorrect vaccine administration. To compensate for her injury, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program awarded her more than $1 million. Patients with injuries caused due to vaccination are barred from filing suits in state or federal courts. In order to hear their claims, the government has set up the U.S. Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters. Shoulder problems related to vaccination have been recently added to the list of injuries eligible to receive damages. The special court has increased accepting the number of claims for this injury and it is now being added to the no-fault system.
What causes SIRVA?
Shoulder pain is a common side effect of being administered a vaccine like a tetanus or flu shot, in the arm. However, sometimes the pain persists even after a prolonged period and can be accompanied by limited range of motion or other shoulder related injuries. In its most severe form, this injury is known as Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA).
SIRVA is a result of injury to the musculoskeletal structure of the shoulder – i.e. tendons, bursa, ligaments etc, which is caused due to incorrect administration of the vaccine. The most common cases of SIRVA occur in patients receiving a flu shot in the deltoid muscle of the arm. It is important to remember that the injury is not caused by the vaccine itself, but by the incorrect administration of the injection. Symptoms of SIRVA start showing in a few days and continues for weeks after receiving the shot.
What are the symptoms of SIRVA?
The most common symptom of SIRVA is severe shoulder pain. While most people suffering from SIRVA complain of intense and persistent shoulder pain and limited mobility of the shoulder, there are other injuries that can also take place. These include shoulder bursitis, shoulder tendonitis and adhesive capsulitis.
How is SIRVA treated?
Most cases of SIRVA can be treated with pain medication and physical therapy which helps in alleviating inflammation and improving the mobility of the shoulder. However, in cases where patients continue to experience pain and/or other symptoms of SIRVA, it may be necessary to operate and repair the damage to the ligaments and tendons.
SIRVA in the news
Any medical treatment or intervention can result in injury – minor or major. However, that does not mean that medical treatment should be stopped. There are state and federal courts that take cognizance and allow claims against medical malpractice or injuries. Similarly, just because vaccines or their administration can result in injuries, it should not dissuade vaccine manufacturers from production or patients from receiving them. Keeping this in mind, claims against vaccine manufacturers cannot be filed in state or federal courts, but are heard by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, which has no jury.
In order to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability, a trust, The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, was set up in 1988. Funded by charging a small surcharge on vaccines, the fund has paid around $3.2 billion since 1988, to patients for a range of injuries related to vaccinations. Some of these include arthritis, polio, Guillain Barre Syndrome, encephalitis and even death. The fund also pays for attorney fees for claimants – within a reasonable amount, of course; to ensure that patients do not have to pay their attorneys out of the awarded amount.
More than $18 million has been awarded to 112 SIRVA patients since 2011; with more than half that amount disbursed in the last year. An increased awareness of SIRVA and the growing number of immunizations have contributed to this rise in claims and awards.
- Brandon C. Taylor, M., & David Hinke, M. (2014). Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.medscape.com: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/837089_2
- DUGAN, I. J. (2015, August 24). Vaccine Injury Payouts Rise. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/vaccine-injury-payouts-rise-1440430702
- Matthew G. Barnes, M. C. (2016). A “Needling” Problem: Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration. Retrieved February 25, 2016, from http://www.jabfm.org: http://www.jabfm.org/content/25/6/919.full