Pain, Swelling, Immobility: How to Spot, and Avoid, Injuries From Vaccine Shots

Vaccines are meant to keep people healthy, but where on the body they are administered can make the difference between helping and harming.

Vaccines are meant to keep people healthy, but where on the body they are administered can make the difference between helping and harming.

SIRVA, an acronym for shoulder injury related to vaccine administration, is caused by the injection of a vaccine into the tissue underneath the shoulder’s deltoid muscle, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting an injection there instead of inside the muscle can result in severe pain and even loss of motion in the arm. For some patients, those symptoms can result in lifelong pain.

Bonnie Gamberdella from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is one of those people. She received a routine flu shot in 2015 and now has a hard time cooking, cleaning even blow-drying her hair. Raising her arm feels next to impossible and causes her excruciating discomfort.

“It just stretches and pulls and hurts,” she told NBC10. “It’s very hard to have to live with something that you know is never going to get better.”

SIRVA is so common that a special vaccine court within the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has been created to hear these types of claims. To date, about $4 billion has been paid out to 6,000 patients with vaccine issues, according to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. And the total number of claims are increasing every year. In 2011, there were 386 claims compared to 1,234 last year, according to the program.

During that same time frame, SIRVA cases jumped from 9 to 602.

“Most cases go unreported and that is a problem,” Christina Cavanaugh, clinical manager at Hahnemann Hospital’s emergency department, told NBC10.

Symptoms - including pain, swelling and immobility - typically develop within 48 hours. Patients diagnosed with SIRVA must show six months of continuous symptoms before their case can be heard in court. When it is, patients do not have to prove negligence just causation, attorney Max Muller said.

“A lot of these are life altering injuries that cause ... serious impairment and future disabilities,” he said.

Gamberdella is still waiting for her settlement money. In the meantime, sleeping and moving are both painful activities. She wants others to know that her injury is not a result of what was in the vaccine, but instead how it was administered.

“How are you gonna solve somebody getting a bad flu shot if you don’t inform them that they did it wrong?” she asked.

For readers worried about getting their flu shots and similar vaccines, Cavanaugh has a few tips to ensure shots are delivered in the right location.

First, make sure that you and the person administering the shot are either sitting or standing at the same level. Also, relax your arm muscles. Do not flex. If you experience intense swelling or pain, head straight back to the doctor’s office.

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