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6 min read

Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine: What you need to know

The flu shot is a common and widely administered vaccination protecting against seasonal influenza. While most recipients tolerate the vaccine well, a minority may experience adverse reactions, commonly called flu vaccine injuries. These reactions can vary from mild side effects like soreness at the injection site to rare but potentially serious conditions, such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome or shoulder pain. Awareness of these possible long-term side effects is crucial as it empowers individuals to make informed health decisions and understand their legal rights.

A report by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) documents that more than half of the compensated claims made to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) are due to complications from the Influenza Vaccination. In recent years, the number of compensated claims far outweighs dismissed ones now that clear legal precedents have been set.

Long-term side effects are rare, and compensated claims happen roughly once for every million doses administered in the US. However, flu shot side effects are more common than others, so it is wise to have a  comprehensive understanding to help foster trust in vaccination programs, promoting higher compliance rates and better overall public health outcomes. By staying informed about flu vaccine long-term side effects, individuals can actively participate in their health choices, contributing to a safer and more effective immunization strategy against seasonal influenza.


What are common side effects of the flu vaccine?

Common side effects of the flu vaccine are generally mild and temporary. Following vaccination, flu shot side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. Some may also develop mild fatigue, headache, or a low-grade fever, which typically subsides within a day or two. These reactions show that the body responds to the vaccine and builds immunity against the flu virus. Most people tolerate the flu shot well, and these minor flu vaccine side effects are outweighed by the significant benefits of vaccination, including reduced risk of contracting and spreading the flu and preventing severe complications.


When Should I Be Concerned about a Possible Flu Vaccine Injury?

While flu shot side effects are generally mild and self-limiting, individuals should be vigilant about possible flu vaccine injuries if they experience persistent or worsening symptoms beyond a few days. Recognizing signs of concern is crucial for seeking timely medical attention. Such warning signs may include difficulty breathing, dizziness, excessive swelling, high fever, increased heart rate, limited range of motion, muscle weakness, or pain beyond the injection site. These symptoms could indicate a more severe vaccine-related reaction that requires immediate evaluation and treatment by healthcare professionals. Awareness of these potential indicators enables individuals to respond proactively, ensuring their safety and well-being in the rare instances of adverse reactions to the flu vaccine.


What Are Common Symptoms of Severe or Long Term Flu Vaccine Injuries

Severe or long-term flu vaccine injuries are extremely rare, but they can occur. If someone experiences such adverse reactions, they should seek immediate medical attention. Common symptoms from flu shots may include:

Anaphylactic Shock (Severe Allergic Reaction)

Anaphylactic shock is a severe, rapid-onset allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is essential to manage this critical condition effectively. Individuals can begin exhibiting signs of anaphylactic shock within four hours after the flu shot, such as:

  • Skin taking on a bluish hue (Cyanosis)
  • Lower than normal blood pressure (Hypotension)
  • Slower (Bradycardia) or faster (Tachycardia) heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat (Arrhythmia)
  • Swelling of the throat and breathing passageways, including the Pharynx, Larynx, or Trachea
  • Challenges with breathing
  • Feeling of dizziness
  • Instances of fainting
  • Feelings of confusion and anxiety
  • Loss of consciousness


SIRVA (Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration) is characterized by persistent shoulder pain and limited range of motion following vaccine administration. Signs to look out for are:

  • Pain in the shoulder manifesting within 48 hours post-injection
  • Inflammation and swelling in the affected shoulder
  • Restricted or diminished movement range
  • Shooting or pulsating pain in the arm.

A report shows that 84% of 400 cases of SIRVA involved a flu shot vaccination being administered incorrectly. Hesse, E. M., Atanasoff, S., Hibbs, B. F., Adegoke, O. J., Ng, C., Marquez, P., Osborn, M., Su, J. R., Moro, P. L., Shimabukuro, T., & Nair, N. (2020). Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA): Petitioner claims to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 2010–2016. 

Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)

CIDP is a rare nerve disorder causing muscle weakness and sensory problems due to a damaged Myelin Sheath. The Myelin Sheath is a protective, fatty covering that surrounds and insulates nerve fibers in the nervous system. This sheath is essential for helping the nervous system function properly, as it helps communication between different body and brain parts. Common symptoms to be aware of are: 

  • Numbness or tingling in your feet and hands, muscle weakness, fatigue, and loss of reflexes.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)

GBS is a serious neurological disorder where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the peripheral nerves (these nerves are responsible for transmitting sensory information), leading to muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Symptoms should manifest between 3 to 42 days following the flu vaccine and include:

  • Onset of weakness, tingling, or numbness in your hands and feet, spreading upwards across your body
  • Muscle discomfort
  • Challenges in walking or movement
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed reflex responses
  • Trouble with speaking, swallowing, or breathing.

Neuromyelitis Optica

Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) is an autoimmune disease primarily affecting the optic nerves and spinal cord. It leads to inflammation and damage of these nerve tissues, causing severe visual impairment, paralysis, and various neurological symptoms. NMO usually develops around 2 to 3 weeks after influenza vaccination. Symptoms to look for are:

  • Loss of vision
  • Eye pain
  • Weakness or numbness in legs and arms
  • Loss of balance
  • Bladder and bowel problems

Transverse Myelitis

Transverse Myelitis is a neurological condition characterized by spinal cord inflammation, resulting in weakness, sensory disturbances, and potential paralysis in the affected areas of the body. Signs of Transverse Myelitis include:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Sensory problems
  • Bladder and bowel problems.

Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM):

ADEM is another rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and demyelination in the brain and spinal cord, leading to neurological symptoms such as confusion, weakness, and impaired motor function. Early recognition is essential for full recovery, according to a report on  Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis following seasonal influenza vaccination in an elderly patient. Important symptoms to be aware of are the following:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of vision
  • Difficulty walking or coordination problems


Can I get Nerve Damage from a Flu Vaccine?

Flu vaccines are generally safe, but in rare cases, they can lead to nerve damage. Millions of people get the flu shot each year to protect themselves from seasonal influenza. While the risks are significantly lower than not getting vaccinated, there is a rare potential for nerve damage due to the vaccine. Nerve damage occurs when nerves in the body become injured, leading to various symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling sensations, and muscle control issues. The flu shot has been known to cause nerve damage in rare cases, leading to conditions like Brachial Neuritis, shoulder nerve damage, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), and Transverse Myelitis. 

Diagnosing and treating nerve damage may involve imaging tests and therapeutic approaches such as physical therapy or surgery, depending on the severity of the symptoms. While the risk of nerve damage from the flu shot is minimal, it is essential to be aware of these potential side effects and seek medical attention if any concerning symptoms arise.


What Should I Do if I Think I Have a Flu Vaccine Injury?

If you suspect a vaccine injury, it is crucial to consult your doctor immediately. Some injuries, such as various forms of SIRVA, can worsen without treatment and may require urgent medical attention. Seeking prompt medical care can improve the likelihood of a swift recovery. Make sure to inform your doctor about your recent flu shot and describe your symptoms. This information will help your healthcare provider accurately assess your condition and determine the best course of action for your care. 

What Should I Do if I Have Been Diagnosed with a Flu Vaccine Injury?

If you have been diagnosed with a flu vaccine injury, following your doctor's treatment advice and seeking a second opinion is crucial to ensure the best possible care. Additionally, discussing your legal rights with a vaccine injury lawyer is essential. They can guide you on filing a claim under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which offers compensation for most vaccine injuries on a "no-fault" basis. This means there's no need to prove negligence from your vaccine provider or the flu shot's manufacturer to receive compensation. Moreover, hiring a lawyer to manage your VICP claim comes at no personal cost, ensuring you have the necessary support and advocacy throughout the process. By seeking appropriate medical care and legal assistance, you can navigate the vaccine injury claim effectively and work towards obtaining the compensation you deserve.

What Compensation is available or Flu Vaccine Injuries?

If you've experienced a flu vaccination injury, specific criteria must be met before filing a claim for compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). These criteria include developing flu shot injury-related symptoms within the last three years, with symptoms persisting for more than six months after vaccination. If you meet these criteria, the VICP can compensate for various aspects of the injury, including all out-of-pocket medical expenses, past and future lost wages, future medical expenses, and up to $250,000 for pain and suffering. By meeting the requirements and going through the VICP process, individuals affected by flu vaccine injuries can obtain the financial support they need to cope with the consequences of their injuries.

Do not hesitate to contact My Vaccine Lawyer, a flu shot injury compensation specialist, for a free consultation today.


Meet the Author

Leigh Finfer - Associate Attorney

Leigh A. Finfer is a vaccine and personal injury attorney at Muller Brazil and My Vaccine Lawyer. Mrs. Finfer has been with the firm since June 2018 and her practice includes representing vaccine injury victims, personal injury victims, and those who suffer injuries as a result of unsafe drugs and medical devices.


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