It didn’t take long for Jacalyn Broze to realize this wasn’t the usual soreness you get from a flu shot.
As WCCO News reported, the Minneapolis woman is vigilant about getting the flu shot every year, and 2017 was no different. But less than a day after getting the vaccine, Broze said she “knew something wasn’t right.”
She’d gotten the shot at a grocery store pharmacy, which advised her that it’s normal to feel some soreness afterward. However, this went way beyond an ordinary ache. Broze says her shoulder became extremely painful. A few weeks later, her chiropractor pointed out that her right arm and shoulder were “sloping.”
Broze told WCCO that it took multiple doctors before she found out what was wrong.
“The surgeon had me do another MRI, and everything had fallen off,” she said. “A complete tear of the rotator cuff.”
Even more surprising was the cause of Broze’s torn muscles — an improperly administered flu vaccine.
Broze had a condition called “Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration,” or SIRVA. Now part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, SIRVA is “shoulder pain and limited range of motion occurring after the administration of a vaccine intended for intramuscular administration in the upper arm.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 202 people were compensated for SIRVA through the program in 2016. The AAP states that most SIRVA cases occur in adults getting a shot when some immunity already exists from previous vaccinations, possibly causing a greater inflammatory response to the misplaced injection.
Dr. Tom Shimabukuro of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told Pharmacy Today there’s a distinct difference between SIRVA and ordinary post-vaccine pain:
“Most people have some pain following a vaccination, and it usually goes away on its own. SIRVA is pain, weakness, and loss of function that goes on a lot longer than we expect. It can result in prolonged, even chronic pain, decreased function, and disability and may require treatment and physical therapy.”
He added that SIRVA can generally be avoided by proper technique:
“SIRVA occurs when vaccination is given too high on the shoulder or is angled incorrectly, which puts the injection too close to the bursa and rotator cuff. If it’s too close to the joint, it can cause inflammation in the [joint’s] structures.”
The condition is extremely rare, and doctors caution that it’s no reason to avoid a flu shot.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu shot for everyone over six months of age (absent risk factors like life-threatening allergies). The influenza vaccine has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and can be life-saving for children and other vulnerable groups. Even if you get the flu, the vaccine can reduce the severity of the illness.
Broze agreed with doctors who said that worries about SIRVA shouldn’t keep you from getting immunized. While she had to undergo surgery to repair her shoulder and is still in therapy to restore motion to the joint, she told WCCO, “I would not tell anyone not to get a shot, but just being careful how it’s given.”