Canadian Researchers Urge Vaccine Precautions to Avoid SIRVA

Published on October 25, 2018 by Sandy Liebhard

Canadian researchers are working to raise awareness about SIRVA, a serious and potentially debilitating shoulder injury associated with incorrect vaccine administration.

“With flu season underway both the public and healthcare providers should understand how to recognize and respond to SIRVA,” Kelly Grindrod, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo, said in a press release issued on Monday.

What is SIRVA?

SIRVA, or Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration, occurs when a shot is incorrectly delivered into the shoulder capsule, rather than the deltoid muscle. Symptoms of the condition appear within 48 hours of vaccination, and may include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Limited shoulder mobility
  • Shoulder swelling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or fingers

Unlike the temporary shoulder soreness that can follow vaccination, symptoms of SIRVA last longer than a few days and do not improve with the use of over-the-counter painkillers.

Extreme cases of SIRVA can lead to long-term injuries and complications, including rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder, bursitis, tendonitis, and brachial neuritis.

While SIRVA is rare, it often goes undiagnosed. For this reason, Dr. Grindrod and her colleagues at Waterloo University conducted a literature review in order to develop resources that can be used to increase SIRVA awareness among health care providers and teach proper vaccine techniques.

Their findings were recently published in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal.

Patients Can Take Steps to Avoid SIRVA

Dr. Grindrod also suggested steps patients can take to facilitate correct vaccine placement and lessen the risk of SIRVA, including:

  • Wear a sleeveless shirt or a shirt where the sleeves can easily be rolled up.
  • Don’t pull the neck of your shirt down, as this can lead to a vaccine being injected into the shoulder instead of the arm.
  • Put your hand on your hip with your elbow out and away from the body to help relax the deltoid muscle.

“In patients who experience SIRVA, months may pass by, and patients will still complain of increasing pain, weakness, and impaired mobility in the injected arm. Simple actions like lifting your arm to brush your teeth can cause pain,” she said. “It’s important that we learn to recognize these signs of SIRVA so that we can access appropriate treatment.”

Patients should be aware of the potential for SIRVA and contact their doctor if they experience any of the symptoms listed above. An ultrasound is needed to diagnose SIRVA and determine the level of severity.

Treatment for SIRVA may include a corticosteroid injection into the shoulder or physiotherapy.

SIRVA Victims Eligible for Compensation Under U.S. Vaccine Compensation Program

SIRVA is eligible for compensation under the United States government’s National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP).

In fact, nearly half — 602 out of 1243 petitions – of the claims filed with the Program in 2017 cited SIRVA as the primary injury, while 67% of SIRVA claims paid that year involved the flu vaccine.

The NVICP was established in 1986, and has since paid out roughly $3.9 billion to the victims of covered vaccine injuries.

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