How Common Are Vaccine Injuries?

There’s a play where the main characters keep flipping a coin and it only lands on heads. If reality worked that way, we might be better off—at least, if only good outcomes happened. Unfortunately for us, there’s also a statistical rule: the Law of Large Numbers. In other words, if we do things enough times we will get every possible result, in proportion to how likely it is. When flipping a coin we always assume there are only two possible outcomes (heads or tails) but theoretically, there’s a third possibility that the coin lands on its edge.  For a U.S. nickel the odds of landing on the edge are about 1 in 6,000 tosses. The odds of that happening are very rare, much in the same way that developing a vaccine injury is a very rare occurrence. I tend to think of getting a vaccine injury as winning a lottery in reverse because instead of getting a nice prize you wind up with an injury and for some that injury can be life ending.

What is a vaccine injury?

Most of us, when we vaccinate, do just fine. Maybe a sore arm, but otherwise we experience almost no side effects. And if we do suffer side effects they go away quickly. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration there were 2,845,946,816 vaccinations administered between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2015. Because so many vaccinations are administered annually the Law of Large Numbers applies meaning a few of us suffer rare but serious harms.

We call these severe harms “vaccine injuries,” and they can vary from anaphylaxis (serious allergic reactions) to transverse myelitis to SIRVA. Vaccine injuries can result from all sorts of factors, and be harmful in all sorts of ways. They happen to people receiving any number of vaccines. With this variety, it can be hard to find a definition. But one thing most vaccine injuries share is the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Since 1988, this no-fault program has been available in the United States to address vaccine injuries. Although the program does not cover every vaccine injury, we can at least define what it will.

For a vaccine injury to qualify, the following must be true:

  1. The injury resulted from a covered vaccine, that is, from a vaccine listed on the Vaccine Injury Compensation Table. (Note however that the injury itself does not have to be on the table. More on that later.) The program excludes some vaccines, for example rabies and shingles. But the program does cover common vaccines such as the ones for seasonal flu, meningitis and human papilloma virus (“HPV”).
  2. The injury occurred within a reasonable amount of time. This can vary depending on what your injury is. For instance, the timeline for SIRVA is different than the timeline for encephalitis.
  3. The injury either lasted for more than six months, or required surgical intervention and hospitalization, or resulted in death. For the program to cover it, injuries need to be “severe,” to quote from the “Deskbook for Practitioners,” which the United States Court of Federal Claims Bar Association publishes.

One final note: Although the Vaccine Injury Table lists a few injuries under each vaccine, these are not the only injuries the program will recognize. People with “non-table injuries” can also receive compensation. You only need to show that the vaccine is covered and that it more likely than not caused the injury you sustained. In fact, many of my own cases involve non-table injuries.

What are the most common vaccine injuries?

Really no vaccine injury is common in the absolute sense. Like I said, it’s the negative lottery. But a few vaccine injuries happen more often than others. Below are some examples.

  1. SIRVA – an acronym for “Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration,” involves shoulder and arm pain. In some instances, people suffering with SIRVA experience a limited range of motion. SIRVA results when the person administering a shot places the needle in the wrong part of the shoulder. The needle placement and subsequent injection of vaccine results in a mechanical injury and a subsequent immune and inflammatory response which can result in shoulder and arm pain. SIRVA is treatable; usually physical therapy and steroids can clear it up, although sometimes patients need surgical intervention. SIRVA is a table injury for most of the covered vaccines. An article in the American Academy of Pediatrics News notes that people complain of SIRVA more often.
  2. Anaphylaxis – also called anaphylactic shock or just a severe allergic reaction, is a table injury for most covered vaccines. To paraphrase this very website, people suffering from anaphylaxis often have blue skin, an irregular heartbeat, or swelling in the throat, windpipe or vocal chords. Anaphylactic shock is a huge topic unto itself, but suffice to say once you experience anaphylaxis to a particular vaccine it is highly unlikely that anyone will recommend you receive that vaccine again.
  3. Vasovagal Syncope – also called a vasovagal response, a syncopal episode, syncope and collapse, etc. Syncope is, in laymen’s terms, fainting. Many people faint after injections, and often the result is quite mild. So why does the Vaccine Injury Compensation table include syncope and collapse as a table injury for most of the covered vaccines? Because sometimes when people faint and fall they seriously injure themselves.
  4. Brachial Neuritis – brachial neuritis is a table injury only for vaccines containing the tetanus toxoid. (DTaP, DTP, etc.) Its symptoms include shoulder and arm pain, muscle atrophy, numbness, and more. Unlike SIRVA, a musculoskeletal condition, brachial neuritis involves damage to your nervous system. As Johns Hopkins’ website mentions, electromyography and nerve control studies may help your physician in diagnosing brachial neuritis.

Some other relatively common vaccine injuries include Guillain-Barré syndrome (or AIDP, short for Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy), encephalitis, and thrombocytopenic purpura.

Of course, you should remember that no website knows your specific circumstances. Successful diagnosis and treatment will hinge on information that only you and your physician know. If you think you have one of these conditions, you should see a doctor.

What are some vaccine injury statistics? 

According to Health Resources & Services Administration data, “for every one million doses of vaccine that were distributed, 1 individual was compensated.” Although some vaccine injuries may go uncompensated, this suggests they are indeed rare, if unpleasant. The report also states “75 percent of all compensation… comes as a result of a negotiated settlement.” An article from WIRED states that “95 percent of the [vaccine] court’s activity]” involves non-table injuries. Last year, this article reported that “half of all new federal vaccine injury cases allege ‘shoulder injury from vaccine administration.’” (The article also reports that “more than 80 percent of all compensation awards in the vaccine court are negotiated settlements.”)

What should you do if you think you have a vaccine injury?

If you believe you have a vaccine injury, you can pursue your case in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Contact the Sands Anderson Vaccine Injury Legal Team today to discuss your potential claim.