Patient advocates want support for those injured by vaccines

CALGARY- Every year, public health officials across the country urge Canadians to get the flu shot. In Canada, vaccines are tested to ensure they are safe and effective but in rare cases people can develop serious side effects. Now, some patients who have experienced those side effects are calling for government compensation.

“I had a saving accounts that took a major hit because I had no income for the first five months of this year,” says Ron Nielsen.

The Calgary carpenter received the flu shot for the first time just after Christmas. In January he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that is listed by the public health agency of Canada as a possible side effect of both the flu and tetanus vaccines.

“I was completely paralyzed,” Nielsen recalls. “It’s taken months of rehab just to be able to walk with a walker.”

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Charles Taylor was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome weeks after receiving a flu shot 11 years ago. The Wetaskawin senior now lives in long term care facility, and his wife says the illness devastated the family’s finances.

“We did not save for anything to happen like this,” Carol Taylor explains. “We had to file for personal bankruptcy.”

Canada is one of just two G8 countries without a national compensation program for those injured by vaccinations. Quebec has had a program in place since 1987. Since then, the province has settled 35 of 237 claims at a cost $4.6 million.

According to University of Alberta law professor Ubaka Ogbogu, a national compensation program makes sense, especially as some provinces move towards mandatory flu shots for health workers.

“Even though it’s not compulsory in Canada, vaccines are  highly recommended, so I think if you’re injured as a result of the vaccine you should get compensated.”

Advocates have launched an online petition asking for more support