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Can Influenza Vaccine Cause Injury and Death?


The most common influenza vaccine reactions, which begin within 12 hours of vaccination and can last several days are: fever, fatigue, painful joints and headache.

One of the most serious documented influenza vaccine reactions is Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). 1 An immune mediated painful and disabling neurological disorder that can occur after viral infection or vaccination, GBS involves inflammation of the peripheral nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis that may lead to death. 2 GBS usually develops within two to four weeks of vaccination.

Characterized by muscle weakness, unsteady gait, numbness, tingling, pain, GBS can cause paralysis of the face or one or more limbs. It can take several months for recovery or leave the affected person with chronic health problems and disability.3 The mortality rate with GBS occurs mainly in the elderly and those who develop severe complications.4

Brain and nerve disorders such as brain inflammation and encephalopathy, Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), optic neuritis, partial facial paralysis, and brachial plexus neuropathy, as well as vasculitis, have also been reported following influenza vaccinations. There have been few biological mechanism studies conducted and public health officials state that a causal relationship between influenza vaccine and GBS has not been definitively established. 5The CDC states that: 6

“Some studies have found a possible small association of injectable flu vaccine with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Overall, these studies estimated the risk for GBS after vaccination as fewer than 1 or 2 cases of GBS per one million people vaccinated. Other studies have not found any association. GBS also, rarely, occurs after flu illness. Even though GBS following flu illness is rare, GBS is more common following flu illness than following flu vaccination. GBS has not been associated with the nasal spray vaccine.”

Adult influenza vaccine injury claims are now the leading claim submitted to the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), with GBS as the leading alleged injury.7 8

IMPORTANT NOTE:NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Influenza and the Influenza vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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1 Kwong JC, Vasa PP et al. Risk of Guillain Barre Syndrome after seasonal influenza vaccinations and influenza health care encounters: a self-controlled study. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2013; 13(9): 769-776.

2 GBS Flu Vaccine Reaction Leaves Nurse A Quadriplegic. National Vaccine Information Center Oct. 31, 2011.

3 CDC. Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine. Oct. 16, 2015.

4 Van den Berg B, Bunschoten C et al. Mortality in Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Neurology 2013; 80(18): 1650-1654

5 Institute of Medicine Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Adverse Effects of Vaccines Evidence and Causality. Influenza Vaccine. pp 293-420. Washington, D.C. The National Academies Press 2012.

6 CDC. Flu Vaccine Safety Information: Do flu vaccines cause any side effects? Oct. 5, 2017.

7 Department of Health and Human Services. Advisory Committee on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV) Meeting. Mar. 3, 2011.

8 HRSA. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Data and Statistics. November 2017.

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