How can you keep from getting the flu? The answer from the CDC has long been “get your flu shot.” When people ask about side effects they are told reactions are rare and mild, disappearing within a day or two.
Starting last year, however, we began receiving complaints from readers who experienced long-lasting severe arm pain after getting their annual influenza vaccine. One nurse sent this message:
“I am an RN who, for many years, have been pooh-poohing the notion that the flu shot can cause flu-like symptoms. The literature tells us that’s not true, right? We even had posters around the hospital stating that was a flu shot myth.
“I was embarrassed and horrified this season that I actually did have those symptoms for about 24 hours, starting the morning after the injection. But I’m writing this to join the ranks of those who have had lasting side effects.
“Since having the vaccination several months ago in my left arm, I have had chronic muscle aching mid-deltoid, moderate weakness and reduced range of motion of my upper arm unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The dull ache became an excruciating pain whenever I took my blood pressure in that arm. I would wince audibly in pain when the automatic cuff reached a certain level of pressure, so I began using my right arm to check my BP.
“The pain still occurs when I periodically test my left arm. Now, having read other complaints on your website, I know that it’s not all in my head. I will make an appointment to see my physician, whose assistant administered my injection.”
Readers Report Pain and Disability Linked to Flu Shot
If we had only received a few reports of pain and disability associated with the influenza vaccine we would not be concerned. After all, some people are allergic to flu shots and react badly. Fortunately, that is a relatively small number of individuals.
We have received hundreds of reports of long-lasting shoulder or arm pain following flu vaccination. We suspect that it may be partially related to the higher dose or the four flu strains being recommended for older people. Here is one such story:
“I try to do my part to stay healthy, so I obediently took the super flu shot for seniors. It is now six weeks later and I am still not sleeping due to the pain in my upper arm and elbow.
“Also, I obediently allowed my local pharmacist to administer the shot. Now my primary doctor refuses to treat my problem because his office did not give me the shot. The drug store has contacted their insurance company to open a file on me. When I tried using a liniment it made the pain worse and kept me awake that night. I don’t know what I can do.”
Here are just a few other messages:
Kathy in Utah reported:
“I got my flu shot on November 17, 2015. My arm is in constant pain. I thought the pain would go away in a couple of days but it hasn’t. I can move my arm but I have to be very careful with it. I feel like I have lost all strength in that arm. It hurts to take my blouse off. I am constantly rubbing my arm. If I lose my balance and go to catch myself it shoots the worst pain down my arm clear to my finger tips.”
Laurie in Oakland, CA became very concerned:
“I’ve been really worried that I had bone cancer or something. I got pain that never left after my flu shot in October, 2015. My arm still hurts and when I take off a sweater it really hurts. I finally decided to check to see if anyone else had an adverse reaction to the flu shot. Frankly, I’m glad to know that I was right; it was because of the flu shot and it’s not something way more more serious like cancer. That said, this is a major drag.”
Pat shares this tale of woe:
On December 4, 2015 I got a flu shot. I never had problems before. The nurse put the shot high in the shoulder. The shot itself didn’t hurt but within 2 hours my arm began throbbing. The pain has steadily increased involving the shoulder, upper arm, scapula, and upper back.
“I’ve tried laser therapy, a round of anti-inflammatory medicine, and I am getting ready to start physical therapy. The pain has been horrible; I can’t sleep in any position without waking up. I can’t raise left arm without pain; I can barely pick up my purse. I am very active and this is driving me crazy because I can’t do any activity without pain. I am trying to maintain my range of motion, but it is very painful and hard. I want to know how long this is going to continue and if it’s ever going away.”
What the CDC says:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions some “minor” short-lasting side effects such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever and aches. Judging from reports at PeoplesPharmacy.com many people have had longer-lasting, more severe reactions in the past couple of years. Even health professionals have experienced severe disability from the flu shot. Here is a nurse’s story.
We encourage anyone who has experienced a serious problem with the flu shot to report it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The CDC and the FDA maintain it jointly. Find it online at vaers.hhs.gov. Fax a completed form to (877) 721-0366 or mail the form to VAERS, P.O. Box 1100, Rockville, MD 20849-1100.
There is also a program to compensate people who have been injured by vaccinations. The VICP (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program) can be reached by phone (800-338-2382) or online: http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/index.html