‘Worst Experience of My Life’: Early Vaxxine Adopters Suffer Injuries, Struggle to Get Proper Care
By Zachary Stieber, Jan Jekielek and Meiling Lee
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 was 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, California, said.
Hertz survived but still suffers. She has been to numerous specialists. Multiple experts found indications the vaccine triggered the reaction, according to medical records reviewed by The Epoch Times.
Hertz 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 been 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.
“It was the worst experience of my life.”
Reactions 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 jab 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 jab 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.
Dressen was diagnosed by a doctor at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with post-vaccine neuropathy, or nerve damage, according to medical records reviewed by The Epoch Times. Dressen was showing “persistent neurological symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 vaccine,” one note penned by an NIH doctor said. SARS-CoV-2 is another name for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.
Maddie de Garay’s life was thrown into turmoil after receiving her second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot on Jan. 20, 2021. The litany of issues included paresthesia, back pain, and abdominal pain.
“My back hurt, my stomach hurt, my head hurt. I had a fever of like 101-something,” Maddie, 13, told The Epoch Times. “My toes were numb and they were ice cold and they were white, and same for my fingertips.”
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.
In a visit to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, one of the Pfizer trial sites, the day after the vaccination, 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.”
But references to the vaccine began to disappear in later visits, and Dr. Robert Frenck, the principal investigator for Pfizer’s trials at the hospital, told Maddie’s parents in a phone call in May 2021 that “the doctors that have seen her so far have not found something where they thought it was research-related, is what they all were telling me.”
“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, did not respond to inquiries, or could not 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.
Hertz was diagnosed with “presumed post COVID reaction” in early 2021, according to medical records. After visiting other specialists, she eventually received a diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome triggered by the vaccine. Symptoms of the syndrome include trouble breathing and low blood pressure.
Among the First
Dressen 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 like 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.”
In this combination photograph, Erin Sullivan is seen before and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy of Erin Sullivan)
A dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared in Orange, Calif., in a file image.
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 neither the government nor the companies have done enough to address vaccine injuries.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna did not 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.”
Government reviews of surveillance systems have identified health problems “potentially associated” with the COVID-19 vaccines, including the neurological disorder called Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS), an FDA spokeswoman told The Epoch Times in an email. “Decisions on whether there is some basis to believe there is a causal relationship are a matter of medical and scientific judgment and are based on factors such as: the frequency of reporting, biological plausibility, the timing of the event relative to the time of vaccination, and whether the adverse event is known to be caused by related vaccines,” she added.
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 Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, 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.
As of Feb. 11, more reports of GBS were made to VAERS following Moderna or Pfizer vaccination than Johnson & Johnson vaccination, an Epoch Times review found. At the same time, many more shots of the former vaccines have been administered in the United States.
Initial 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 Dressen’s group, REACT19, conducted among its members found 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 matters. She’s even had some doctors refer patients to her.
In exchanges with Dr. Janet Woodock, 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, just to let you know, 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.
“He didn’t look into it at all. He held my hands and told me I should do yoga,” Sullivan said.
Establishing 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.
Some 943,000 reports of nervous system disorders following COVID-19 vaccination were reported to VAERS, through Feb. 4, according to a search done through the MedAlert engine. The disorders, as classified by the Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities, include infections like meningitis and brain injuries like Bell’s palsy.
Bell’s palsy and Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) were detected at elevated rates in recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine, researchers in the United Kingdom analyzing English vaccination records found in 2021. They also said the data pointed to Pfizer recipients having a heightened risk of stroke.
A different set of researchers, analyzing U.S. data, found an elevated risk of GBS for Johnson & Johnson recipients. GBS, a rare neurological disorder, has been detected in some Americans who received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and began to be listed on fact sheets for the vaccine in July 2021.
“A wide spectrum of serious neurological complications has been reported following COVID-19 vaccination,” one review of studies on the topic stated.
A number of case reports have been reported in journals, including a series focusing on four post-vaccination events that researchers described as “likely due to the vaccines.”
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.
“COVID vaccines cause neurological side effects,” Dr. Josef Finsterer, a neurologist at Klinik Landstrasse in Austria who conducted a review of studies detailing post-vaccination neurological events, told The Epoch Times in an email.
Experts, 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-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 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 mis-folding and typically lead to neurodegenerative disorders.
“The immune cells that are in the spleen make spike protein because they can’t stop doing it, release them into exosomes, and then those exosomes … go up to the brain. They go up to the brain and they infect all these nerves in the brain … causing all of those symptoms that are manifesting,” said Seneff, whose paper reviewing possible consequences of the vaccines was published in 2021. She worries about both short-term and long-term side effects.
Finsterer said molecular mimicry, or a vaccine targeting not just the virus but the recipient’s molecular pattern, could be the cause of GBS.
Blood clots in the brain’s venous sinuses, one of the more common neurological side effects, may stem from the same processes unfolding as after COVID-19 infection, he proposed.
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.”
“However, as a result of this mimicry, Ab2 [anti-idiotype] antibodies also have the potential to bind the same receptor that the original antigen was targeting. Ab2 antibodies binding to the original receptor on normal cells therefore have the potential to mediate profound effects on the cell that could result in pathologic changes, particularly in the long term—long after the original antigen itself has disappeared,” Murphy wrote in a recent article.
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.”