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Health: Vaccination Mistakes

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Flu shots and other vaccines save lives, but if a shot isn't given the right way, it could leave you with debilitating shoulder and arm pain. Are you more likely to have a problem depending on where you get a shot?

Raul DeJesus from Bethlehem has nerve damage in his arm. He has to take several powerful medications for the pain. He says nothing helps.  And Debby Russo needed surgery to fix scar tissue and nerve damage in her shoulder.  She says, "I knew something was wrong because I couldn't move my arm… It was a lot of pain."

Debby and Raul both suffered serious shoulder injuries, caused, they say, by their flu shots.  Dr. Robert Duncan, an Infectious Disease Specialist says, "It can really be quite a significant problem."  Dr. Duncan says it's not common, but flu shots that are given too high in the arm can cause issues.

Philadelphia Attorney Paul Brazil says, "Shoulder injuries really just started to become recognized."  He's talking about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program, which pays people who are injured by certain vaccinations.  "There are people that have very serious debilitating lifelong conditions," Brazil says.  He says the awards, most between 20 and 150 thousand dollars come from vaccine makers, not taxpayers.

While any injection can cause damage, Brazil says most of his cases involve the flu shot. Debby, from Montgomery County, got hers from a pharmacy, and was awarded $108,000. Brazil says,  "In my personal experience, it seems that a lot of vaccine petitioners get the vaccine at a pharmacy."

The journal of the American Pharmacists Association published an article last year outlining the danger and giving pharmacists tips on proper procedure, including the ideal spot for an injection.

Raul says, "This has affected every single aspect of my life."  A mistake could happen anywhere. Raul got his shot at a hospital clinic. His case is still pending.  "Not to be able to do the things that I was able to do because of a simple flu shot. It's horrible. It's horrible," Raul says.

Health care workers who give any type of shot are supposed to have training, but the rules on how much, and what that includes, vary from state to state.

What to do if you have shoulder pain following vaccination: 
1. Seek treatment. Early intervention could help to prevent further complications such as frozen shoulder.
2. Ask the vaccine administrator or your doctor to complete a VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) form.
3. If you doctor prescribes physical therapy, stick with it. It can help but may take time.
4. Keep track of your out-of-pocket expenses so that you can seek reimbursement from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

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