ORLANDO, Fla. — As the flu season gets into full swing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects about half the United States population to get vaccinated against the flu.
But investigative reporter Karla Ray learned there has been a spike in injury claims related to vaccines, including the flu shot, and they’re leading to big settlements for pain and suffering.
The injuries have nothing to do with the medicine itself, but rather the person holding the syringe. The injuries occur when the person giving the shot either goes too high or too deep, hitting sensitive nerves, joints and other tissue in the shoulder.
When those mistakes are made, the government is on the hook for payouts. A trust fund has paid out more than a million dollars to people here in Florida just over the last year and a half.
Jamie Saracino received a settlement after receiving a shot improperly. The pain was so intense, she could not lift her arm at all.
“It was excruciatingly painful,” Saracino said. Saracino is a nurse who works in a Tampa-area hospital, which is where she received the last flu shot she says she’ll ever get. “A few days later it was really starting to ache, and it just progressed to the point that when I went to do my hair, I couldn't even put my hair up.”
She didn’t know at the time, but Saracino was suffering from SIRVA, which stands for Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration. It occurs when the person giving a vaccine misses their target.
“When they get injected too high, up in the shoulder, and it gets into the structure of the shoulder,” assistant professor of nursing Chris Lorentz said. Lorentz is a registered nurse who teaches at Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando.
Though everyone trained at that school to give vaccines will eventually be licensed, Lorentz points out that isn’t always the case when you receive a vaccine.
“You think every person in the doctor's office is an RN, but most are going to medical assistants or nursing assistants,” Lorentz explained.
A federal program you’ve likely never heard of is set up to help people like Saracino file injury claims with the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Since the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund was created 30 years ago, more than 6000 people have been paid a total of nearly $4-billion for pain and suffering, missed work, and medical bills.
Statistically, that’s just one payout for every million vaccines given. However, claims are on the rise. There were around 1,200 petitions filed in both fiscal years 2017 and 2018, which is the highest on record since 2003 and 2004, during the bird flu pandemic.
The trust fund was set up in an effort to avoid lawsuits against the makers of vaccines, and is funded with a portion of the money you or your insurance provider pays for the actual vaccines.
“The court itself is a bit overloaded. There are only eight judges that do these types of cases,” Florida attorney John Caldwell said. Caldwell is a partner at Maglio, Christopher and Toale in Sarasota, which represents a large number of SIRVA victims.
Caldwell says SIRVA cases make up about half of his current business, but the no-fault system means those who give the vaccines improperly aren’t notified. That’s a step that could lead to more training and prevent future training.
“It does seem like a gap,” Caldwell said.
Since Saracino’s colleague gave her the vaccine that caused her injury, that person was made aware of the mistake. Saracino ultimately had to have shoulder surgery before she could once again use her arm.
“I had a shoulder that didn’t work, and it was very painful. It was ruining my life,” Saracino said.
Doctors still say that the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the risk of this very rare injury.
Cox Media Group