Dr. Danice Hertz remembers vividly the day she got a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hertz, a retired gastroenterologist, received Pfizer's shot on Dec. 23, 2020, less than two weeks after U.S. regulators granted it emergency use authorization.
Thirty minutes went by before an adverse reaction started.
"My face started burning and tingling, and my eyes got blurry," Hertz told The Epoch Times. She also felt faint.
Her husband called paramedics, who came and found Hertz's blood pressure sky-high. They recommended she call a doctor.
Hertz became so sick she feared she would die. She experienced symptoms including severe facial pain, chest constriction, tremors, twitching limbs, and tinnitus.
"I felt like someone was pouring acid on me," Hertz, of Los Angeles, said.
Hertz survived but still suffers. She has been to numerous specialists. Multiple experts found indications that the vaccine triggered the reaction, according to medical records reviewed by The Epoch Times.
She is one of millions of Americans who chose to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines soon after the government cleared them.
Since then, hundreds of millions of doses have been administered. Many recipients have felt fine, if less protected than they were initially promised. But a growing number have endured severe reactions and have struggled to obtain treatments for their ailments.
Brianne Dressen suffered so badly after getting AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine on Nov. 4, 2020, that she would often sit in silence in a room in complete darkness.
"My little girl, she sings all the time. And I couldn't have her around me at all because sound was so unbearable. And my little boy, my skin was sensitive, so anything that touched my skin was painful, so my little boy, he'd come and try to comfort me and hold my hand, and even that was painful. My teeth were too sensitive; I couldn't brush my teeth. So it's like all of my sensory facets just overloaded," Dressen, a preschool teacher who lives in Saratoga Springs, Utah, told The Epoch Times.
PainReactions to COVID-19 vaccines often happen soon after administration—one of the reasons health care providers are told to monitor patients for at least 15 minutes after a dose is given.
For most recipients, problems are small, like a headache, and soon go away. For others, the pain has still not subsided.
"Right now, all I do is work. That's all I can do," Erin Sullivan, a speech pathologist in Connecticut who received Moderna's shot on Jan. 6, 2021, told The Epoch Times. "Everyone around me, like family, are doing everything else. I'm not cooking, I'm not cleaning, I'm not doing laundry. I'm not taking the kids anywhere. I basically work and then I go to bed."
Sullivan, who later got a second dose of Pfizer's vaccine on the recommendation of an immunologist, has suffered from tingling in her limbs, severe fatigue, and other symptoms for over a year.
Sullivan was diagnosed with an adverse reaction to the vaccine, according to medical records reviewed by The Epoch Times. She "never had similar symptoms prior to COVID-19 vaccination," one doctor wrote.
Dressen has dealt with incontinence, limb weakness, and nausea, among other symptoms.
"My reaction started within an hour. Ended up with pins and needles down my arm, had double vision that night, sensitivity that night. And over the next 2 1/2 weeks, my symptoms progressed to the point where I had extreme tachycardia, blood pressure fluctuations, temperature fluctuations. My sound sensitivity and light sensitivity became so severe I had to be confined to my bedroom 24/7," Dressen said.
Maddie de Garay's life was thrown into turmoil after she received her second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 20, 2021. The litany of issues included paresthesia, back pain, and abdominal pain.
The girl's symptoms have persisted. She uses a wheelchair because it's become impossible to walk. She's lost feeling in the lower half of her body. Other parts often aggrieve her.
The day after her vaccination, during a visit to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, one of the Pfizer trial sites, Maddie was diagnosed with "adverse effect of vaccine," according to medical records reviewed by The Epoch Times. The following month, another doctor wrote that Maddie was suffering from "many prolonged and significant post COVID vaccine symptoms."
"One of the first ones says it was related to the vaccine trial," Patrick de Garay, Maddie's father, responded.
All the doctors who treated patients in this story declined to speak to The Epoch Times, didn't respond to inquiries, or couldn't be reached.
Many of the vaccine-injured experience improvement at one time or another, but some who spoke to The Epoch Times described regular relapses.
Hertz reported an improvement in late 2021, which she attributed primarily to time passing since receiving the vaccine. "Unfortunately, I have taken a turn for the worse, a month or two ago," she told The Epoch Times via email on Feb. 17.
Among the FirstDressen and Maddie both participated in vaccine clinical trials. Like them, other vaccine-injured were among the first to get one of the shots.
On Dec. 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization to the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. A week later, the agency cleared Moderna's jab.
The authorization letters acknowledged the vaccines were "investigational" but said reviews of clinical trials identified no safety concerns and pointed to it being "reasonable to believe" that the vaccines "may be effective" to prevent infection from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Hope soared that the vaccines would be the tool to crush the CCP virus. Herd immunity was the goal, with vaccine-conferred immunity the primary piece, according to top U.S. officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Early adopters thought getting vaccinated would contribute to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Many had family members who, due to underlying medical conditions or age, were among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Some were high-risk themselves.
"I had lost really close loved ones to COVID, and this was my saving grace to help contribute to ending this pandemic," Angelia Desselle told The Epoch Times.
Desselle received Pfizer's vaccine on Jan. 5, 2021. As manager of an outpatient surgery center in Louisiana, she stayed on top of updates regarding the vaccines, including declarations by health authorities that they were both safe and effective. She trusted them. She went to get vaccinated during her lunch break.
Other people who got the vaccine early also put their faith in the U.S. government, vaccine makers, and the health care community.
Hertz, a longtime doctor, jumped on an early opportunity to get vaccinated. Though she had recently retired, she thought she might need to go back to work in the future. And, she says, she "completely trusted our system and believed the FDA was honest and decent."
Andrea Rositas was in a medical program when she got Moderna's vaccine on Jan. 31, 2021, at Southwestern College, a community college in Chula Vista, California.
Nurses ahead of her in the program said Rositas should get vaccinated. They said it was safe.
Stephanie de Garay told The Epoch Times that she believed that if anything went wrong, trial participants would "be in the best hands."
"If you're going to have anything happen, the best time would be in a trial, because they would do everything they could to get you better, and to figure out why. Because that's the whole point of a trial," she said. "That's not what happened."
Dressen said she enrolled in the AstraZeneca trial because "I trusted what the doctors said, and I wanted this pandemic to be over."
"And the way that it was presented to the world was, 'This vaccine’s going to end the pandemic.' I mean, my kids are stuck at home, they can’t leave, we’re wearing masks. I work in a school. I see how it’s affecting elementary-aged kids," she said. "I trusted the government and I trusted the doctors. I don’t anymore."
The vaccine-injured have repeatedly contacted federal officials and the vaccine companies about their afflictions. They feel that neither the government nor the companies have done enough to address vaccine injuries.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna didn't respond to requests for comment for this article.
Some government researchers have suggested in emails reviewed by The Epoch Times that they think vaccines caused the side effects, in addition to the diagnosis of Dressen by NIH doctors.
A spokesperson for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the NIH, told The Epoch Times via email that data from a study that featured NIH scientists examining some of the people with problems following vaccination yielded "no data showing the vaccines caused the symptoms in these patients."
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told The Epoch Times in an email, "To date, CDC has detected no unusual or unexpected patterns of miscarriages, cancer, or neurological conditions following immunization that would indicate COVID-19 vaccines are causing or contributing to these conditions. CDC continues to recommend that everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated."
Later, the spokeswoman said she forgot about GBS. Based on data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a U.S. passive reporting system, the rate of GBS was found within the 21 days following Johnson & Johnson vaccination to be 21 times higher than among Pfizer or Moderna recipients. Analysis of the data "found no increased risk of GBS after Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna," she said.
The StruggleInitial visits to doctors often yielded little but frustration. Doctors found it difficult to ascertain the conditions and their causes. Many diagnosed patients with anxiety.
Rositas says she was told by the CDC after a review of her records that she suffered from an adverse reaction. She showed the update to several doctors.
They'd tell her, "Oh, it's just anxiety," she recalled. She said that hurt, especially because that's the same thing a nurse told her right after the reaction.
Eventually, Rositas was diagnosed with a reaction to Moderna's vaccine, according to a letter from Sharp Health Care reviewed by The Epoch Times.
Maddie recalled one doctor who entered her room and told her, “You are 13. You should not be crying and freaking out over this. You have anxiety, and this is all anxiety, and you need to stop hyperventilating or else we’re going to shove a tube down your throat and put you on a ventilator.”
"They assume that it’s just anxiety, so they pump her with medicine, which makes her sicker," Stephanie de Garay said.
A survey of Dressen's group, REACT19, conducted among its members found that over 80 percent said they were diagnosed during early examinations with anxiety.
"My anxiety diagnosis plagued me clearly until I went to the NIH," or about seven months, Dressen said.
Dressen has become a leading advocate for people experiencing problems after getting vaccinated, becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the matter. She's even had some doctors refer patients to her.
In exchanges with Dr. Janet Woodcock, a top official at the FDA, Dressen has outlined what she sees as issues with the vaccine clinical trials and the vaccine injuries.
"I've told her about the fact that I am a preschool teacher [and] I'm not qualified as a medical professional whatsoever. But I have Ivy League physicians referring sick vaccine-injured patients to me for medical care," Dressen said at a recent panel hearing in Washington. "If that in itself doesn't tell Janet Woodcock that the system is broken, I don't know what will."
Sullivan also had fruitless consultations. In one case, she went to see a rheumatologist while displaying classic symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome—the same issue that she and Hertz, among others, have since been diagnosed with.
Growing InterestEstablishing definitive links between vaccines and post-vaccination conditions can be difficult, but more researchers have become interested in investigating confirmed or suspected vaccine injuries. The number of injury reports has grown over time, along with vaccinations overall.
Similar to many scientists, the researchers were hesitant to say they were definitely associated. "Establishing causal links on a population level requires large epidemiological studies and cannot be done on individual case reports alone," they wrote.
That view isn't universal.
MechanismsExperts, though, still aren't sure about the mechanisms that cause the conditions.
One cause could be excessive production of spike proteins from the vaccines in the spleen. The protein gets released in exosomes—tiny nanoparticles produced and released by cells that mediate cell to cell communication by transferring genetic materials to other cells—causing inflammation of nerves in the brain, according to Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
In this scenario, the spike proteins are toxic, as they act as prion-like proteins, which become abnormal as a result of misfolding and typically lead to neurodegenerative disorders.
Finsterer said molecular mimicry, or a vaccine targeting not just the virus but the recipient's molecular pattern, could be the cause of GBS.
Dr. William Murphy, an immunology researcher at the University of California–Davis, floated anti-idiotype antibodies—an antibody that binds to another antibody—as a cause of both lingering problems after COVID-19 infection and post-vaccination issues.
Murphy drew on Neils Jerne’s network theory, which states that antibodies can not only bind to an antigen (such as a virus or a spike protein), but also attach to other antibodies to elicit the production of anti-antibodies that may result in adverse effects.
When the immune system activates the antibody response to an antigen, that specific response induces “downstream antibody responses” producing anti-idiotype antibodies. These secondary antibodies become a problem when their antigen-binding region “resembles that of the original antigens themselves.”
Murphy told The Epoch Times via email that research into post-vaccination effects "may indeed give insights on long COVID as they may be by the same or similar mechanisms, and if we understand the immunology underlying these effects we can then figure out ways to possibly treat and also prevent by altering vaccine strategies."