Channel 2 Investigates

Federal program compensates vaccine victims after shots given incorrectly

ATLANTA — Denise Procida wasn't scheduled to work on flu shot day at her office last year, but she went to work anyway to get the shot.

She immediately noticed something strange.

"The second she put the alcohol on my shoulder, I thought, 'Wow. That's really high.' And I didn't say anything," Procida told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer.

Within a few days, she couldn't move her arm at all.

"The pain just continued to get worse. About a week in, it was just unbearable," said the mother of three, who was struggling to take care of her family, do simple chores, or even style her own hair.

When she told her boss about her injury, she found out a coworker who got the flu shot on the same day was having the same problem.

But Procida's primary care doctor and two orthopedists were stumped.

"When you tell someone, 'I can't move my arm because I got a flu shot four months ago,' they look at you like you're crazy," said Procida.

She wondered whether anyone else had the same severe shoulder pain weeks after getting a flu shot, and started researching on the Internet during her sleepless nights.

"It turned out, there are lots of people that had the same thing," she said. "It was reassuring that I wasn't the only one."


The condition is called SIRVA, which stands for shoulder injury related to vaccine administration.

"It's a rare condition that can result from an improper placement of a vaccine," said Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, who runs the CDC's Office of Immunization Safety.

He demonstrated the proper placement for a shot, in the thick portion of the deltoid muscle, not too high up toward the shoulder.

He says SIRVA is much more severe than the usual pain associated with any shot.

"What I'm talking about here is pain and weakness and loss of function that far exceeds and lasts longer than we would normally expect," said Shimabukuro.

While SIRVA is not a reaction to the actual vaccine itself, the injuries happen often enough to be covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program -- a $3.6 billion fund that protects vaccine makers and those who give the shots from being sued.

Procida questions that logic, saying, "If they are the ones that are causing the injury, then they should be partially liable and paying into that."

But they aren’t. The federal program is funded solely by patients, with a $0.75 tax on every single shot given.

"And I could see because they're completely covered, it doesn't matter if someone that works for them is not doing it properly," said Procida.

So far this year, 222 SIRVA victims have been awarded more than $25 million.

Procida has a claim pending.

"I'm not the type of person to sue over anything, but I'm telling you it was very painful for a long time," she said.

The CDC says that just because there's an increase in the number of SIRVA cases doesn't mean it's happening more often. It could just be that more people are aware of it and reporting it.

Every state has its own requirements for training and for who can give shots.

Georgia allows pharmacists and even their interns to give shots, although they have different medical training than other medical professionals.

"The pharmacists found out they could make a lot of money off flu vaccines. And all of a sudden, they wanted to give out all vaccines," said Representative Sharon Cooper, who chairs Georgia's Health and Human Services Committee. She's also a registered nurse.

"I do have a concern of turning over medical procedures to people from other areas and with other areas of expertise," said Cooper.

She pointed out that the benefits of getting a flu shot still far outweigh the risks.

Cooper added that patients should learn where on the arm the shot should be given, and to speak up if something doesn't seem right.

Denise is still kicking herself that she didn't.

"A year later, it's still not right," she said. "I can't lift my arm completely up in the air. Anytime I do that, I have pain. It's still on a daily basis."