I love the Fall. I’ve been waiting for weeks for a break from one of the hottest summers I can remember in the Northeast. It’s finally here. My flip flops and summer dresses are packed away, and my boots and warm sweaters have taken over my closet. Now that it’s October, there are three “must-dos” on my list related to my four-year old daughter – school pictures, Halloween costume, and flu shot.
Each Fall, every member of our family gets the flu shot. We view vaccines as a necessary health precaution, and this year is no different. In fact, given our daughter’s age and last year’s record-breaking influenza season, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We are strong believers that flu shots save lives and herd immunity is critical.
Last week, the CDC released statistics showing that the 2017-2018 flu season was the worst in over three decades. Sadly, more than 83,000 people died as a result of the flu, and of those more than 170 were children under the age of 5. Eighty percent of those child deaths occurred in children who did not get vaccinated. The number of people who suffered with the flu last year was staggering and the season was longer than most seasons, lasting nearly 19 weeks. There were twice as many hospitalizations from influenza last year (more than 900,000) that most typical flu seasons. To put last year’s 83,000 flu-related deaths into perspective: in 2011-2012 flu season, there were approximately 12,000 total deaths associated with the flu virus. Before last year, the 2012-2013 flu season saw the highest death total (approximately 56,000), but last year’s total was up more than 50 percent from the ‘12-‘13 season. The number of deaths was tragic.
Despite the increased attention in traditional and social media last year on the number and severity of influenza infections, less than half of the U.S. population is expected to receive the flu shot this year. Even more astonishing is a continued drop in flu vaccinations given to children, who like my daughter, are between 6 months and 5 years old. Unfortunately, this young population is among the highest at risk for serious complications. One-half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children. Other populations at increased risk for influenza-related illness, hospitalization, and death are pregnant women, anyone over the age of 50, and those with certain chronic medical conditions.
The CDC recommends October as the best month to receive a flu vaccine. Why is that? Well, although there are variables to balance, including the unpredictability of the timing of the start of flu season and concerns that the effectiveness of the vaccine-induced immunity will lessen throughout the season, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated before the flu season begins to give the vaccine enough time to build up immunity to the virus. For this reason, the CDC recommends that it should be offered by the end of October. Children aged 6 months through 8 years who require 2 doses of the vaccine should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available, to allow the second dose (administered more than 4 weeks later) to be received as close to this time period as possible.
Still many people believe for one reason or another that they will not benefit from the flu shot. According to an October 1 National Public Radio story, there are five good reasons to change your mind, including that the vaccine can reduce the severity of the flu and its complications if you still get it after having had the shot. It is true that the flu shot does not insure immunity from the flu. People still get the flu after vaccination. But you can reduce your risk of severe complications and the length of the illness if you are vaccinated. Even if you put vaccination off until later this Fall or over the winter, it is still worth it. The flu shot is offered so many places now that it is hard to miss the opportunity.
The most commonly reported side effect from the flu shot (or any vaccine) is a sore arm and mild swelling. Occasionally, someone can develop a fever as part of the body’s reaction to the vaccine. As with any vaccine, there are some very rare but serious consequences of vaccination. When these complications happen, seek medical advice right away.
Specific to the influenza vaccine is a serious complication known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). The Mayo Clinic defines GBS as: “a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body.” It is known to be caused by an antecedent infection, and some people who actually get the flu can later develop GBS following the illness. It is now widely accepted too that the flu vaccine itself can cause GBS too, although the complication is very rare.
Other complications from the flu shot, or any vaccine, include Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA). SIRVA is a mechanical injury to the shoulder into which an intramuscular vaccine injection is administered. It is believed to be a local immune mediated inflammatory response that attacks the ligaments, tendons and bursa of the shoulder. SIRVA is believed to be caused by injections placed too high on the shoulder, resulting in the inadvertent direct injection of the vaccine into the deltoid bursa or joint space, where it damages the soft tissues in those areas. Thus, SIRVA can be prevented by proper vaccination technique and positioning. SIRVA results in damage to the shoulder capsule that is often diagnosed as subacromial bursitis, bicipital tendonitis, rotator cuff syndrome or adhesive capsulitis. Up to 30% of people who develop SIRVA end up having surgery and more than 60% report persistent residual symptoms.
The good news is that there are legal protections in place that allow those who experience a rare side effect following vaccination to receive compensation – including past and future medical payments, past and future lost wages, and limited pain and suffering damages caused by those complications.
In fact, if someone experiences one of the known, reported complications published on the Vaccine Injury Table, there is a presumption of entitlement to compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“VICP”). The VICP is a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system that allows injured people to make administrative claims instead of filing a lawsuit. The claims are decided by Administrative Law Judges and Special Masters employed by the United States Court of Federal Claims. It is a no-fault system in that the injured party does not have to prove negligence. However, it is also an adversarial system where the Department of Justice attorneys represents the interests of the VICP and the injured party can be represented by an attorney of his or her own choosing.
At Faraci Lange, we have extensive experience in analyzing, preparing and filing vaccine claims for injured people, including those with GBS and SIRVA. Vaccine injury claims require specialized knowledge of the claims process, and the collection and preparation of voluminous documentation, including an injured party’s medical records, employment information and tax records. Faraci Lange has successfully navigated this process for countless clients. You can trust Faraci Lange to review your vaccine injury claim and provide you good advice regarding your options.