9 Investigates

9 investigates reports of serious injuries after receiving flu shot

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pansy Brown has only gotten one flu shot in her entire life and it's a day she'll never forget.

"I feel it right here. It aches when I lift it that high," said Brown, while trying to hold up her left arm.

She got the shot in 2011 at a “minute clinic” set up at a store in Hickory. The next morning she knew something was wrong.

“It was swollen and red and had a fever just to touch it was really really hot and I couldn't move it," Brown said.

She went to her doctor who couldn't figure out what was wrong. She called the clinic where she got the shot to ask for help paying her medical bills, but she learned they wouldn’t pay a dime.

"I said, 'I got a shot there and you know it really messed my arm up and I think that maybe the girl that did it did something wrong,’" Brown said. "I asked them for help with the medical bills and they told me to call the CDC."

Brown later found out she had SIRVA - shoulder injury related to vaccine administration.

"It's a rare condition," said Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, with the CDC.

Shimabukuro showed the proper placement for a shot, in the thick portion of the deltoid muscle, not higher up near the shoulder. He said some pain is normal 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," Shimabukuro said.

While SIRVA is not a reaction to the actual vaccine, it happens often enough to be covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. It is a $3.6 billion fund that protects vaccine makers and those who give the shots from lawsuits. The federal program is funded only by patients. A 75-cent tax is added on to every single shot given.

So far this year, 222 SIRVA victims have been awarded more than $25 million. Brown is one of three victims in North Carolina that have been awarded money. She received $125,000. Three others are also waiting to hear their amount.

"It takes so long and there’s so much paperwork," Brown said.

When the fund was created, payouts were supposed to take roughly eight months. But an audit found more than half of cases take longer than five years. That's about how long it took for Brown to get her money.

"You're waiting and waiting and you can't work," Brown said.

The problem is that there are more patients filing claims without the staff to handle the paperwork.

The advisory committee that oversees the program is now asking the federal government to speed up the process for patients by funding additional judges to hear those cases.

As for why victims can't sue the vaccine makers or the company that administers the shot, the federal government said it's necessary to keep the vaccine makers in business, or else there wouldn't have enough supply. It's a high-risk industry, and experts felt the companies would go out of business if they weren't protected from litigation.

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