Angel Petropanagos and Bob Martin, a survivor of Guillain–Barré syndrome, explain the need for a Canadian vaccine injury compensation program.
In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations recommends that healthy adults and children receive annual influenza vaccinations. Each year, approximately one third of Canadians (ages 12 and up) receive the influenza vaccination. For the most part, vaccination is a safe and effective way of preventing the spread of infectious diseases, such as influenza. However, adverse events are a risk of vaccination. Bob Martin, a survivor of a vaccine-related injury knows this first hand.
In 2010 Bob received the H1N1 flu shot (influenza vaccination) and developed Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that effects about one in a million people who are vaccinated. While most G20 countries have a vaccine injury compensation program for individuals who are harmed after receiving routine vaccinations, Bob quickly learned that Quebec is the only Canadian province that offers compensation.
Here’s Bob’s story:
One week after H1N1 vaccination in the Fall of 2010 I developed a fever and had difficulty swallowing. My balance was compromised. On November 1st I experienced some stiffness in my legs. By the next morning both of my legs were numb and tingling. I had trouble balancing and could not stand. I was rushed to the hospital and doctors assessed me as suffering from Guillain–Barré syndrome. They immediately began an intravenous immunoglobulin treatment in an attempt to reverse the syndrome. But, my condition worsened; paralysis began to set in and I developed respiratory problems.
The next week I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and placed on a ventilator. At this point I was paralyzed up to my shoulders. I could barely shrug or move my neck or head. I was given a nasal feeding tube. My ability to communicate was limited. I used an alphabet chart and blinked when I heard the particular letters I needed to spell the words I was trying to communicate.
On Nov. 18th they removed the ventilator from my mouth and did a tracheotomy and attached the ventilator to the trachea. During the next two weeks I lost control of the muscles in my tongue and in my eyes. This ultimately resulted in some vision problems. On December 2nd my doctors moved my feeding tube from my nasal area to my stomach. My breathing slowly improved. I practiced breathing on my own for a few minutes each day in order to build up my strength.
I was in the ICU for four months. During this time I received over 50 X-rays and ultrasounds. I had pneumonia (twice), bladder infections, and a ten-inch blood clot along a pic line in my right arm and into my chest. As one doctor told me, “Bob, if you don’t die from pneumonia or a blood clot you’ll be out of here in 6 – 8 months.”
Eventually the ventilator was removed. I stopped taking pain medication and I was moved into rehab where I was determined to walk again. In late June 2011 I was sent home. I could walk with a cane, but still needed a hospital bed and a commode.
My case is severe and my recovery has been slow. I have good days and I have bad days. Years later, I still sleep 10 – 13 hours each night, my body gets tired easily, and I have gained weight. I can no longer run or walk long distances. I have poor balance. My feet are either numb or have a painful burning sensation. My hands shake in certain positions and I get electrical shocks to my feet during the day. I have monthly pedicures and massages to alleviate my symptoms. I now pay out-of-pocket for some of these services as my medical only covers part of the costs. I would undergo these treatments more frequently if they were fully covered. I have not been able to work full-time since developing Guillain–Barré syndrome.
Bob’s story is rare, but not unique. Other Canadians have developed Guillain–Barré syndrome or reported harm related to routine vaccinations. Although the Canadian Government recommends several routine vaccinations and monitors adverse events following immunization, they have not implemented a no-fault vaccine injury compensation program. Bob wants this to change.
Bob has met with Federal and Provincial members of Parliament, contacted Health Canada, and reached out to Glaxo Smith Kline, the H1N1 vaccine manufacturer, but has had little luck.
If you want Canadians to have access to vaccine injury compensation, you can sign Bob’s petition or write a letter to the Federal Minister of Health, Jane Philpott at Hon.Jane.Philpott@Canada.ca and c/c Bob at email@example.com.
Angel Petropanagos is a visiting researcher at the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto and a Research Associate at Novel Tech Ethics, Dalhousie University. @APetropanagos
Bob Martin is a Personal Trainer at Recreation OakBay in Victoria, B.C. @ramgbs62123