Volume 36

The Vaccine Monologues: Federal Vaccine Policy and SIRVA’s Place in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

by Alexa S. Perlmutter

It’s common parlance in these pandemic times: “I just got a covid shot, and my arm is a little sore!” Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) lists mild pain and soreness for several days at the injection site as a common side effect af- ter receiving the Covid-19 vaccine or a booster shot. However, there is a small minority of people for whom that shoulder pain does not go away after a few days. For people without prior shoulder injuries who then suffer from shoulder pain within 48 hours of vaccination and who live with it for at least six months, their condition is known as “Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration” (“SIRVA”), a condition identified by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) in 2010 and which often requires aggressive treatments like arthroscopic surgery or multiple cortisone injections to resolve.

These past few years, vaccines have been front of mind for many. The Covid- 19 pandemic upended our lives and institutions in every conceivable way, but nothing was affected more than the cultural debates around vaccinations. By the end of the second month of the pandemic, the federal government had promised hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Moderna’s candidate vaccines. The first Covid-19 vaccine was approved by the CDC less than eight months after tri- als started, faster than any vaccine previously developed, though this unprece- dented speed of development meant it was neither unanimously lauded nor adopted. Indeed, then-President Trump hosted daily press conferences in which he promoted treatments not approved by the FDA and proclaimed, “‘[W]ith or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass,’” both spurring and reflecting anti-vaccina- tion sentiments around the country.

The dominant political narrative casts doubt and hesitancy regarding the Covid-19 shots as a partisan issue, wherein Democrats are much more likely to get the vaccine than Republicans. While this political divide does exist, simply labeling it as such obscures the way that misinformation and Republicans’ ideas about freedom and liberty have led to a landscape of widespread vaccine hesi- tancy and stubborn rejection. 2021 reporting from rural America in the New York Times found that the most common reason for apprehension regarding the vaccine has to do with its speedy rollout, unknown long-term side-effects, and strong beliefs about bodily autonomy. In that way, twenty-first century vaccine hesitancy is rooted in fear and trepidation—whether legitimate or not—of an adverse effect on the body.

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