AJP speaks to the man behind the pharmacist flu vaccine injury claim—were his symptoms really the result of injury, or something else?
In early July, at the height of consumer campaigns promoting flu vaccination and GP outcry over pharmacist involvement, 34-year-old Michael McGrady from WA spoke to Perth media claiming to have been vaccinated in his upper back, next to his shoulder, by a pharmacist.
Following the vaccination, marketing company director Mr McGrady said he experienced a range of side effects including seizures.
News of the “horror jab” – as described by Nine News – spread like wildfire, with many consumers claiming over social media that after hearing about it, they would be steering clear of pharmacist-administered vaccinations and instead be heading to their GP.
We reached out to Mr McGrady to hear his version of events and find out what happened since the story first broke just over a month ago.
Mr McGrady explained that he had attended the pharmacy specifically to get a flu shot. This was his first flu shot at a pharmacy, and his first time attending that specific pharmacy.
“Historically I always had them at the doctor’s surgery,” he told AJP.
However his wife had encouraged him to get the vaccination as soon as possible for the sake of his young son, and so he headed to the pharmacy around the corner from his work out of convenience.
Mr McGrady says he received over-the-counter service and was walked into a consultation room where he sat down and filled out some paperwork.
“He then got me to take my shirt off. He prepped the needle and put the needle in. He put it moreso in the top back of my shoulder than into my arm. He made mention of a muscle of the ‘rear deltoid’. I assumed that must have been the right spot.”
Mr McGrady was then encouraged to stay for 15 minutes under observation after which he went home “feeling fine”.
That night his wife was awoken by Mr McGrady having a seizure, which lasted for about 45 minutes.
“I came in and out of it. There were periods where I was uncontrollably shaking.”
While Mr McGrady’s wife phoned healthdirect for advice, he told AJP they decided not to call an ambulance because the seizure had stopped. He went to see the GP first thing next morning.
However Nine News reported simply that he had been “hospitalised” and this is where he was told the needle had hit an important nerve.
Over the next few days, he said he started to lose his vision, feeling constant nausea and having bouts of vertigo.
When the news first broke in early July, Mr McGrady and his wife had insisted the reaction was a result of an injury caused by the pharmacist injecting him in the back of his shoulder.
“Due to the pharmacist injecting the needle into this area he could have hit a nerve which travels to his brain which can in turn cause an infection in his brain,” his wife wrote on Facebook.
“The site of the injection caused all of this havoc on his body. Which scares me that these untrained people are allowed to do this,” she wrote on 2 July.
“After visiting our GP we were informed that the government have given pharmacists the ability to provide these injections but they have had no medical training on administering injections.”
Mr McGrady told media on 8 July: “If pharmacists need to be doing this, then they need to be better trained. There’s a reason that doctors go to university for the length of time that they do.
“I’m just really trying to put the word out there to say that this is not on; pharmacists shouldn’t be able to do this.”
However Mr McGrady told AJP on Friday that his GP said his symptoms could have been a reaction to the vaccine serum itself, although her best educated guess was that it was related to the site it was administered.
“The results of an MRI came back showing slight swelling to the brain, they said that likely would’ve been the cause of the side effects I was getting. Their guess was that when it came to the swelling, they came down to the idea it might’ve been a reaction to the serum,” he said.
He said the doctors were “unable to really put it down to one particular thing”.
“No one was able or willing to stand behind an exact reason. It could be the serum or the site – everybody kept repeating that.”
Unfortunately he did not take photos of the site where the vaccine had been administered, which he says became red and inflamed.
“I don’t have photos, I wish I did. My doctor was able to sight it.”
According to the Australian Immunisation Handbook, published by the Federal Department of Health, the deltoid muscle is the recommended site for intramuscular vaccination in adolescents and adults.
The Handbook says that the immuniser should expose the person’s arm completely, from the top of the shoulder to the elbow. This includes rolling up the person’s sleeve or removing their shirt, if needed.
In the figure above, the injection site is the smaller triangle-shaped area, in the middle of the deltoid, above the deltoid tuberosity.
Mr McGrady says that just over a week ago he made a full recovery.
“I had to do rehabilitation to treat the vertigo, get movement back in my neck, arms, and everything.”
He says he has submitted a complaint to AHPRA about the pharmacist.
AJP is aware of the name of the pharmacist and pharmacy in question but has chosen not to name them due to the nature of the complaint.
The pharmacist at the centre of the allegations is adamant that he vaccinated Mr McGrady according to the correct protocols.
Mr McGrady emailed the pharmacy about the matter a few weeks after first speaking to the media.
His first interview with the media was on 7 July, while his initial email raising concerns about being vaccinated in the “upper back” was sent to the pharmacy on 23 July.
The pharmacy responded by email maintaining all of the pharmacy’s protocols were followed including administering the vaccine into the correct site.
In its response email the pharmacy suggested Mr McGrady make a report to the TGA as his medical issues may have been an adverse effect related to the vaccine itself and not the administration site.
These emails have been sighted by AJP.
There was no CCTV in the consultation room to be able to directly prove whether the vaccine was administered in the right place.
However the pharmacist said he is in his third year of administering vaccines in that pharmacy.
He issued a statement saying that vaccinations in the pharmacy are carried out according to vaccination training and with the “utmost regard” for the safety and wellbeing of patients.
“No patient in our pharmacy has ever been administered the influenza vaccine by injection into the back,” the pharmacist said.
“We are aware of a patient who has recently appeared on a television news item alleging that he was vaccinated by injection into the back.
“Without identifying or denigrating the patient in any way, we categorically assert that no patient has ever received a flu vaccination in the back at our pharmacy. Influenza vaccines are administered through injection into the upper arm, with no exceptions.
“I administered a number of vaccinations that day and all of them were administered in exactly the same manner as per our accredited training.”
Pharmacy Guild WA branch director Matt Tweedie told the AJP the Guild is backing the pharmacist who maintains he did not administer the vaccine in the upper back.
“This is an experienced pharmacist who is well trained, who has been doing vaccinations for some years,” said Mr Tweedie.
“He remembers the patient, and exactly where he administered the vaccine, and he was one of a number of patients that he provided the vaccine to on that day. We believe the pharmacist.
“We [at the Guild] just note that this person [Mr McGrady] seems to have been given information that is not just a little incorrect, but totally incorrect, in terms of the training of pharmacists,” he said.
“He said he’d been advised by a GP that this could’ve been a reaction due to the vaccine being put in the back – but more importantly, this GP said that pharmacists weren’t trained. We are trained in the same way as any immuniser – a nurse, an Aboriginal health worker – with a course overseen by the Department of Health of Western Australia.
“There is absolutely no way that anyone who has completed training with us or anyone else would’ve done this, and we stand by that.”
Following a notification to AHPRA, the pharmacist would have been contacted and asked to respond.
After assessing a concern, a National Board has a number of options available including to close the concern, or take another action under the National Law; refer the matter or aspects of the matter for further investigation; or refer the health practitioner for a health or performance assessment.