A Northern Virginia woman who claimed she was permanently injured as the result of a swine flu vaccination has been awarded $325,879 by a federal judge in a case that reportedly marked the first loss for the government in a case involving so-called "delayed" reactions to the vaccine.
The woman, Shirley K. Thompson, 45, of Stafford County has undergone a dramatic change in "her whole life style" as a result of receiving the vaccine four years ago. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. said in granting the award. In a 17-page decision, Bryan noted that Thompson is unable to work or drive a car, suffers from a loss of the use of facial and leg muscles, and suffers from a severe fear of falling whenever she walks.
"These conditions are permanent," and a result of the vaccine, he stated.
The federal government had defended itself by claiming that while Thompson suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disabling disease often called "French polio," the swine flu shot she received in late 1976 had not caused her illness. Bryan rejected the government's argument and held that, although Thompson's disabilities began to occur considerably later than most swine flu problems, the vaccine was the culprit.
Her lawyer, Clifford Shoemaker, had argued that while the government had managed to win its claims against "delayed" reactions elsewhere, Thompson's medical history was different. She had suffered from a delayed reaction to a little-known protein, which caused her problems to begin four months after the shot, rather than three weeks afterward, the normal time for problems to arise, he said. Bryan accepted that argument in his ruling.
The federal government inoculated an estimated 46 million Americans in 1976 against the expected outbreak of swine flu. Although few cases of swine flu were reported, the vaccine itself produced widespread side effects, including paralysis and death, lawyers have said.
According to Jeffrey Axelrad, the Justice Department official in charge of handling the thousands of lawsuits filed as a result of the swine flu program, 5,384 claims and lawsuits totaling $4.6 billion have been filed across the country. Of these, 339 claims and suits have been settled out of court for a total of $13.5 million. Nine judgments have been awarded for a total of slightly less than $2 million when the government agreed it bore responsibility, and judges have accepted the government's arguments in 12 cases that it was not responsible for problems associated with the Guilain-Barre syndrome.