Should rare complications from vaccines prompt compensation?
Vaccines are extremely safe and protect against a host of diseases. But of the millions of Canadians vaccinated each year, a small handful develop serious complications, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Now some patients and doctors are calling for compensation for those affected, and an online petition is asking for more support.
Like millions of Canadians, Calgary resident Ron Nielsen, 57, got an annual flu shot this past winter. Within days, though, he became ill with Guillain‐Barre syndrome, an autoimmune illness that can cause weakness or paralysis in the arms and legs.
Neilsen says he experienced paralysis in his face and while he could feel everything below his waist, he couldn't move his legs.
"I could not even sit up, I was like a two-month-old baby. I just had no strength at all. It was very scary," he remembers.
Months later, he still walks with a cane and can no longer work as a carpenter. Nielsen says he was just doing as he was told when he got the vaccine and was surprised to learn that GBS can be a very rare side effect of the flu vaccine.
"I didn't ask for this shot. I was told to get it. I got the shot and this is what happened. That is so unfair. I am so angry right now," he says.
Victoria, B.C. resident Bob Martin is a personal trainer who also ended up in intensive care after his flu shot three years ago.
"The next thing I was in a wheelchair. I couldn't walk. I was then into a bed. As you are laying there over six or seven days, your mind is in fear," he says.
While he's about 80 per cent better now -- three years later -- he still has trouble with his feet and his balance.
The flu shot protects thousands of Canadians from hospitalization and death from the flu. But it's estimated that one in a million people who get the vaccine also suffer from GBS. No one knows why some people develop the condition, but it's considered a very rare complication.
Health Canada says GBS has several possible causes and may arise after a vaccination or without any identified cause at all. They also note that GBS is much more likely to occur after an infection with the flu itself, rather than after the flu vaccine.
Martin says vaccines prevent a lot of illness, but he says Ottawa should start helping the few who are harmed by following the advice of public health experts.
"What we need in Canada is a no-fault compensation program to compensate people, whoever they are, who are injured from any and all vaccine," he says.
Quebec has a program that compensates those who have been injured by vaccines. So does the U.S. along with 18 other countries. Martin has now started an online petition calling on the federal government to create a national program as well.
With some provinces now moving to mandatory flu shots for health care workers, the issue of compensating those who become injured may become all the more critical.
Vaccination advocate Dr. Kumanan Wilson, who researches public health policy with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, says Canada needs a national compensation program.
"The vaccines are proven to be safe and some individuals unfortunately react poorly to them and can have these reactions," he says. "It happens very rarely but if it does happen, these people are affected."
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip