There is an article in “indy100” website sponsored by the British newspaper The Independent that highlights a vaccine reaction experience of a woman named Tiffany Yonts, who was given the tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine when she was 14 years old. The article is titled “Woman who developed lifelong illness from vaccine hits out at anti-vaxxers” and it relays an account of what Yonts endured as a result of a serious vaccine reaction.1 2
The underlying theme of the article is that, despite the severe negative effects of the Td vaccine on Yonts’ health, she remains “firmly pro-vaccine” because she believes vaccines are the “right thing—the socially conscious & caring thing” to do. That article opens with a reference to a report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) that found that “half of all parents with small children have been exposed to misinformation about vaccines on social media.”1 2 3
After reading Yonts’ story, I thought it deserved to be shared further. It is an extremely graphic and personal account that should be read by everyone, regardless of how they feel about vaccines in general.
Yonts began… “When I was 14, I received a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine as part of a routine physical. As a competitive swimmer, I was in fantastic shape. My health and my fitness were my life. I was strong, had amazing lung capacity, and rarely caught more than a cold. That changed overnight. My arm tripled in size from the injection and was very painful. I started to have trouble breathing. Then most of my muscles in my body stopped working. I developed pneumonia and was bedridden for approximately six months. I could barely move or breathe. I almost died.”1 2
“I began to struggle with random paralysis,” Yonts continued. “Breathing remained painful and difficult due to a mostly paralyzed diaphragm (which remained that way for five years). My muscles atrophied seemingly instantly. I began to exhibit stroke-like symptoms. I had to use a wheelchair. It was a waking nightmare, made worse by the lack of a diagnosis. It took two years for us to find a name for my condition: Guillain-Barré Syndrome, officially listed as a possible side-effect of the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine a whole year after I contracted it.”1 2
“Only 30 percent of Guillain-Barré patients continue to exhibit symptoms after three years,” Yonts noted. “Only three percent ever relapse. I am part of both groups. It’s been 14 years since the original incident, which took around six years to begin to significantly recover from. I relapsed last spring. I spent many days lying on the floor gasping for air. I couldn’t sit up for more than five minutes at a time. I still have to use the wheelchair if I go somewhere I have to walk for more than an hour or two. It’s physically impossible for me to complete my hygiene routine at one time.”1 2
Yonts acknowledged that “the vaccine, in many ways, destroyed my life. I will always have GBS and I will always have serious symptoms.” She said she understood that she “could relapse again at any time” and that there was nothing that any doctor could do for her. She said she understood that there was no treatment for her and that this would be her “reality” for the rest of her life.
Then, Yonts went on to stress that, contrary to what some people might assume, she was not “anti-vaccine.” She identified herself as an “unwavering supporter of vaccinations for every single person who can receive one,” excluding “immune-compromised individuals.” Yonts said she believed that her experience with the Td vaccine was an unfortunate rare occurrence. “What happened to me has a literal one in a million chance of occurring,” said Yonts. “I’ve suffered more than I can explain and I continue to suffer, but I’m the one in a million. I’m the outlying statistic that’s a grim necessity for the majority of people to be healthy.”1 2
These excerpts from Yonts’ detailed description of her vaccine reaction experience were the ones I found most compelling because they offer seemingly total transparency into this young woman’s suffering as a direct result of the Td vaccine. She makes no bones about it: the vaccine seriously harmed her and changed the quality of her life forever.
But Yonts became equally convinced that she was simply unlucky—the “one in a million” person who had the bad luck for everything to go wrong for her after she got vaccinated. That is what I find most fascinating about her story, because I have still not been able to confirm the reliability of the origin of that calculation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Any medication can cause a severe allergic reaction. Such reactions from a vaccine are very rare, estimated at fewer than 1 in a million doses, and usually happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.”1 2
However, the CDC bases that calculation on vaccine safety data gleaned from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a passive national vaccine safety surveillance program maintained by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS gauges injuries and deaths associated with or caused by vaccines. The problem is that most vaccine providers do not report to VAERS. There is no requirement that they should. The percentage of vaccine reactions that are actually reported to VAERS is estimated to be about one percent.4 5
So the truth is that nobody knows how reactive vaccines are and, specifically, how many injuries and deaths are caused by them. The “one in a million” guesstimate is more of an idiom than anything else.
As I wrote in an article for The Vaccine Reaction in 2017:
Many doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who administer vaccines are busy and reporting to VAERS has not been made a high priority in standard of care. Or they do not associate the events with the vaccinations because they have been taught to simply believe vaccines are safe and, therefore, health problems that occur after vaccination couldn’t possibly be the cause and are usually only a “coincidence.” Imagine the impact of this kind of circular logic on reporting rates.4
A citation for that same article was a 2011 study conducted in Canada and published in the journal PLOS One that found that vaccination “led to an emergency room visit for one in 168 children after their 12-month vaccinations and one in 730 children after their 18-month vaccinations.”4
One in 168. That’s a far cry from one in a million. One wonders how Yonts might view that disparity. Would she still think of herself as the unlucky one—the outlying statistical casualty, “a grim necessity for the majority of people to be healthy?” Or would she consider the possibility that there are more people than she imagines who identify with what happened to her after she suffered a vaccine reaction and her life was never the same again?
1 Zatat N. Woman who developed lifelong illness from vaccine hits out at anti-vaxxers. indy100.com Jan. 24, 2019.
2 Ilona. Girl Whose Life Was Destroyed By A Vaccine Shuts Down Anti-Vaxxers. boredpanda.com.
3 Matthews-King A. Dangerous anti-vaccination myths ‘breeding’ on social media, report warns. The Independent Jan. 23, 2019.
4 Cáceres M. Odds of Vaccine Harm are One in a Million? The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 6, 2017.
5 Lazarus R. Electronic Support for Public Health-Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (ESP:VAERS). Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Inc. 2011.