Why Are Cases of Shoulder Injuries From Vaccines Increasing?

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Most people who have ever received a vaccine injection in their arm have reported some kind of discomfort in their shoulder subsequent to the injection. Recently, many of these instances have progressed to outright injury. In fact, the number of settled cases of shoulder injuries from vaccines has spiked in recent years. Most often, this results from the manner of the injection of an influenza vaccine and mistakes that are made while administering the vaccine.

Vaccines are meant to be injected into the bursa, which is a sac that protects the tendons surrounding the shoulder. However, sometimes the vaccine is injected above the bursa which can cause lingering issues. Alternatively, the trauma from the needle can also cause shoulder injury. Following the injection, the patient may experience either restricted range of motion in the affected arm or shoulder pain. The onset of these symptoms usually occurs less than 48 hours after the vaccine is administered. In some instances, the shoulder pain goes away relatively quickly. In other instances, however, this pain and limitation of motion may linger for longer than a week.

When a vaccination causes lasting symptoms, it is referred to as Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA). Cases of SIRVA are on the rise in the past several years. Statistics for SIRVA cases are readily available since there is a special legal forum to address them. SIRVA claims are brought to a special master at the United States Court of Federal Claims (COFC). Recently, there has been an uptick in SIRVA cases brought to COFC. In fact, half of all new vaccine cases brought to COFC result from claims of SIRVA. There is a $3.7 billion federal fund to compensate those that suffer injuries from vaccines and SIRVA is now covered by this fund.

One of the reasons for the recent prevalence of SIRVA is that flu shots are readily available from a variety of sources. More people are receiving flu vaccinations as insurance readily covers it and yearly flu shots are widely recommended by many sources. This creates greater opportunity for adverse reactions to flu shots. In addition, many different places administer flu vaccine injections beyond a doctor’s office. Patients can go to pharmacies or walk-in clinics and, within several minutes, walk out with a flu shot. Not all of the people who administer vaccines are properly trained in how to inject the vaccine. Some of these pharmacies are designed to move patients in and out quickly, and the workers may not necessarily take the time to administer the injection properly.

Shoulder injuries from vaccines have become far too common and the greater attention focused on SIRVA has also lead to more reported cases. Injuries that previously may have gone unreported are now reported because there is a heightened awareness of SIRVA and the potential to receive compensation for these injuries. Also, since SIRVA cases take so long to report and process, there is little opportunity to go back to the technician administering the vaccine to make corrections to their injection technique. Until changes can be made in the manner of injection, a technician can inject countless patients in the wrong part of the shoulder, causing a proliferation of these injuries. Those who administer shots are protected from liability so there is little incentive for them to take action to correct any flaws in injections. Finally, some states may have decreased the standards applied to those who administer vaccines in order to make vaccines more readily available, further causing more injuries.

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