As an up and coming Chef, Charlene, 37 yrs old, is not unfamiliar with limelight. However, she never thought she would one day become more known for being a suspected vaccine injured victim.
“I am fine. I feel God has given me this role to carry because He knows me. I can take this.” Charlene’s response was a surprise to me. Instead of the barrage of tears that I suspect may come, I learnt about Charlene’s life experiences as an underdog in the F&B world. Her dogged positivity made it in male-dominated kitchens. She now relies on this optimism to press on.
As a frontliner in the service industry, Charlene was amongst the first in Singapore to take the vaccine. The announcement for vaccination came on Thursday night. By Friday morning, she had to submit her answer. There was no legitimate reason Charlene could think of to say “no”. Had she more freedom, she would have delayed her vaccination. The first batch of her colleagues got vaccinated on Saturday. Charlene’s appointment was Sunday, 7pm.
At the vaccination centre, Charlene bumped into old friends. She began socializing and taking photos. However, after the jab, dizziness set in. “I must be tired from work,” she thought. “I will be fine if I rest a bit.” From the routine 30min observation, Charlene requested for ten more minutes of rest, then another ten. By then, Charlene was slumped completely backwards onto her chair. She was then dragged to the doctor on-site who measured her blood pressure to be at 180 mm Hg and advised her to be admitted for hypertension. When the medics arrived, they got her to sit on a stretcher and pushed her to the ambulance. She arrived at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) A&E at about 9pm.
Doctors began a series of tests. One by one, the results came back normal. By 4am in the morning, they told Charlene that nothing was wrong with her and she can be discharged. Her first hospital record showed her overnight stay at the A&E from 24 Jan 2021 to 25 Jan 2021.
That one-day record gave the impression that Charlene’s injury was a false alarm. But the fact is, Charlene did not leave the hospital. She slept on from 4am till the morning and had breakfast on her hospital bed. However, when she finally stood up to leave, she froze. She couldn’t walk. The nurse was shocked. She was readmitted – this time for 34 days.
Things go by in a flash. Charlene described having to go through consecutive blood draws and multiple tests. Even her positivity was challenged. One “nerve conduction test” reminded her of torture war movies – electric currents through her ankles were felt in her neck. It “broke” her and she begged the technician to lower the voltage. She was also bruised from electromyography, another “current” test through her legs. To rule out Guillain-Barre syndrome, the lumbar puncture test required the insertion of a needle on her lower back vertebrae to draw out spinal fluid. This comes with a possible risk of lung paralysis where one can die in sleep. One day, Charlene felt breathing was hard. She insta-storied her phone’s passcode in case she never wakes.
Fortunately she did. But she felt ever exhausted. She could not walk to the toilet and needed 24-7 assistance from the nurses for toileting and showering. Psychologically, she was beaten down. “I have been independent since 17yrs old, solo-traveling, scuba-diving, motorbiking, cooking. What if I could never walk again?”
Determined, Charlene looked forward to physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. She needed to relearn basic movements from wearing clothes to toileting. “Everyday, I go through unending physical exercises relearning everything from picking up, pulling, pushing, lifting and pressing.” The therapists set weekly goals for her. She would be discharged when she could walk to the ground level of the hospital, buy a drink, and call a cab without anyone’s help.
Imparied in Cognitive Function
One day, a friend wheeled Charlene to the ground level convenient shop. She stared at the shelves and could not decide what to buy. “I have always been the most decisive person in my family and among my friends. Now, I could not even decide on a drink.” Charlene’s dad who visited her at the hospital every alternate day drew some simple shapes and tested Charlene to copy them. She struggled. The speech therapist also found that Charlene had difficulty remembering things. By now, Charlene realised that besides losing her ability to walk, she seemed impaired in her cognitive function.
“But when I told my doctors about my cognitive disabilities, they would brush it aside and link it to trauma.” Charlene did not feel that the doctors were adept in understanding her anomalies. Instead, throughout her ordeal, these doctors asked: Did you have childhood asthma? Have you taken slimming supplements? Are you on TCM treatment or Chinese medicine? Has anyone in your family had muscle/nerve issue? Do you go to wet markets? Are you sexually active?
No one asked about vaccines.
“Some doctors try to pin my condition on stress at work. But I love my work and consider myself to be in the prime of my career. Some doctors try to pin it on the long standing hours I endure during work. But I am young. I gym, swim and exercise.” In the end, Charlene’s diagnosis is myotonia – a neuromuscular disorder. This explains why despite months of undergoing intense physiology, Charlene’s ability to walk did not improve much. The disorder is in the brain. This explains Charlene’s cognitive impairment as well.
But how on earth would she suddenly develop a neurological disorder? Charlene thought. No one in her family has similar disorders. There is no abnormality to explain this sudden deterioration – except for the Pfizer jab. Unless proven otherwise, how could Charlene accept that her injury has no link to the vaccine? Charlene’s neurology doctor conceded in her VIFAP (vaccine injury financial assistance program) application form: “vaccination may be an aggravator of an underlying non-dystrophic myotonic disorder.”
Unfortunately, Charlene’s VIFAP application was unsuccessful. MOH did not provide any explanation for Charlene’s burning question: why or how could her injury have suddenly developed immediately following her vaccination. And with a level of non-certainty, they informed her: “The clinical panel’s assessment is that the presenting symptoms are unlikely related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”
In the rejection letter, MOH spelled out: “We wish to share that all VIFAP applications are reviewed by an independent clinical panel.. comprising experts in relevant fields such as neurology, immunology and infectious diseases.” Charlene finds it puzzling that medical experts sitting on the panel seems to be MOH’s justification of why they cannot be wrong – but Charlene’s doctor is already a top neurologist. If a top neurologist already professes that Charlene’s injury might be vaccine-aggravated, which other neurology expert wrote that possibility off?
For all the expertise of the experts on the independent clinical panel, they had rejected Charlene’s VIFAP application without providing an adequate, objective rationale.
8 months post vaccination, Charlene still had not recovered. Barely 15 metres on the slope and she had to rest.
Ms Yvonne Lian
Ms Yvonne Lian is another lady who could not explain her sudden onset of heart failure following vaccination. She’s 35 years old, a mother of one, and she has regularly had ECG heart tests done – no doctors ever told her there’s any problem.
Following her Pfizer jab on the 18th Aug 2021, she complained of dizziness and breathlessness to the attending officer. He assured her that these side effects were not severe and coaxed her to rest at home.
However, Yvonne developed body aches and started vomiting that night. Her condition worsened the next day. She wanted to go to the hospital but felt so weak and only got to Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) on the 20th Aug 2021. Hearing her symptoms, they immediately did an ECG test on her – it failed. More tests were done. She was eventually told that her heart function was at “EF 30%.”
“I feel like I am constantly running 2.4km,” Yvonne commented about the double whammy of a fast beating heart and a low blood pressure. “Running 2.4km” is familiar term for Singaporeans who had to clear that distance in school’s fitness test. “I am always panting.” When Yvonne told her private doctor (situated at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, whom she sought for a second opinion) that she often vomits after the 30min car ride to Mount Elizabeth, he replied her that it is common. In fact, he foresees that Yvonne might only be able to manage herself for 5 minutes per day in the near future.
Indeed, when Yvonne opened her door for me, it quickly struck me that she was really frail and I hurriedly ushered her back to rest on her sofa. Knowing Yvonne is a mother, I enquired about her daughter’s whereabouts. We quickly struck a chord as fellow parents. She shared with me how she’s delighted whenever she could get some simple house chores done on days when she feels up to it, like washing and hanging a couple of clothes. Her sickness meant that she would no longer take her ability to do these simple chores for granted.
Once, she was toasting hotdogs for her daughter. Next moment, she felt so weak in her legs and quickly rested on the sofa. The next thing she knew, the hotdogs were burnt. As a fellow parent, I could painfully empathize.
I asked Yvonne why did she seek for a 2nd medical opinion about her condition. Yvonne explained that she didn’t have clarity from her main doctor at SKH. “I only saw him twice during my 7 days stay. Once at A&E during admission, then the day before I discharged. The discharge process was also rather abrupt.” One of the tests Yvonne had to complete was the CT scan, which required a calm heartbeat. However, Yvonne’s heartbeat was always racing. When she finally managed to take the test, that very afternoon, the nurse announced that she would be discharged.
“My friend was with me then and we were both shocked. Nothing much has been said about my condition. What do I do from here?”
Yvonne understood that the hospital was overwhelmed. Being able to have first hand experience around the nurses and the doctors allowed her to see their frustrations and hear their complaints. Like her, many other patients were in the hospital following their vaccination.
In spite of this, when Yvonne requested for a VIFAP application, her doctor opined that it’s unlikely her injury is due to the vaccine. His reason is that heart weakness is not a listed adverse side effect of the vaccine. Nevertheless, he could not explain why Yvonne would suddenly have heart weakness after vaccination, and said he would assist with the VIFAP application and “leave MOH to decide.”
Upon discharge, Yvonne noted from the nurses that she would need three kinds of medicine, but was handed more than ten kinds of medicine by the pharmacist. As Yvonne started on the medication, she vomited 6 to 8 times daily. Others then advised her to seek a 2nd medical opinion.
Hence, Yvonne visited a private cardiac clinic. The doctor tracked her progress and find that she was not responding well to the medicine. He also reduced her medicine intake. He explained that the medicines were necessary for her heart and they work well in a long run, but for some people, they could adversely affect the kidney and liver. Under this private doctor’s monitoring, Yvonne learnt to manage the medication on a daily basis and is vomiting less. However, the doctor eventually found Yvonne’s heart’s EF to have dropped to 20%. This resulted in even greater weakness, affecting Yvonne’s mobility and could eventually result in permanent disability.
The private doctor then advised Yvonne to queue for a heart transplant. It’s her only hope to regain a normal lifestyle. However, it is also unknown if a heart transplant will indeed return Yvonne her life. There are risks for such a major operation, and post-operation organ assimilation is not guaranteed. Yvonne broke down contemplating the reality she’s faced with, and very possibly, a permanent separation from her family, especially her daughter.
Thankfully, Yvonne’s private doctor acknowledged that her non-ischemic cardiomyopathy is likely a vaccine injury. He wrote in a memo dated 16 Sep 2021:
“The temporal relation of her vaccination on the 18 Aug 2021 to her admission for decompensated heart failure on the 20 Aug 2021 makes it hard to dismiss
1. a causal relationship for decompensated heart failure due to vaccination with a background of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy and/or
2. a causal relationship between the vaccination and non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.”
Yvonne then applied for VIFAP on 16 Sep 2021 but received her rejection letter dated 20 Sep 2021 on 17 Oct 2021.
MOH later called to say they have made an administrative mistake and had thought Yvonne was not hospitalised. They claimed Yvonne had ticked the box saying she was “not hospitalised” in her application for VIFAP, which Yvonne remembered otherwise. To be sure, in both Yvonne’s doctors’ VIFAP application forms, it was clearly communicated that she was hospitalised.
MOH is now reassessing Yvonne’s VIFAP application.
Yvonne was shocked to learn that her SKH doctor had written in his VIFAP application form to MOH that Yvonne’s heart failure was likely to have developed after her chemotherapy in 2007. Yvonne is a cancer survivor. She had lymphoma in 2007 but had long recovered. Yvonne’s SKH doctor had never communicated this opinion to her.
Yvonne’s SKH doctor’s opinion contrasts the opinion of her private doctor. He believed that had Yvonne suffered heart failure from 2007, her condition would have shown up during childbirth in 2013, or through the multiple ECG tests Yvonne had done over the last 14 years.
In both Charlene’s and Yvonne’s situation, it appears that medical opinions can differ from doctor to doctor. It is also clear that medical opinions are far from being truths. In light of this we must objectively conclude there should be space for both ethical and scientific debates – from which I contended in a previous article that some suspected vaccine injured could have been unfairly dismissed. I also argued that a climate where alternative medical news are dissed at rather than engaged reasonably is unhelpful.
In closing, I asked if Yvonne regretted taking the jab. “It’s not as if I made this choice without due diligence,” Yvonne explained. According to her, when vaccines were first rolled out, ex-cancer patients and those with allergies were turned away at the vaccination centre. However, by the later half of 2021, the government assured everyone the vaccines are safe regardless. The doctor at Tampines Hub vaccination centre further reassured Yvonne that her allergies and ex-cancer status would not pose any safety concerns. With medical assurance given, what else could she have thought? Yvonne’s answers inform me of the necessity to continue a truth-oriented discourse even in a climate of silencing and monopoly of opinions, but how much more can I reason before POFMA shuts me down?
Is it fair for me to contend this unreasonableness that doctors behave as if vaccines can do no harm? Even if injury or death were to occur immediately following vaccination, few doctors would make that link. Like in Charlene’s and Yvonne’s case, it seems necessary for suspected vaccine injured victims to even bring up something as objective as “shouldn’t vaccines be a prime suspect to my sudden unexplained injury?” But victims who ask that soon realise the burden of proof is reversed. Rather than doctors disproving conclusively the vaccine’s link to the injury, victims are to prove causative links between their injury and the vaccine – an impossibility to both the lay and medically trained person, but which those on medically superior high horse can then easily refute or dismiss.
In a climate of disappearing humanity, Yvonne appreciates Charlene for reaching out to her and others who are injured. “Charlene’s the strong one,” said Yvonne. “At least for me, I don’t suffer pain. I am just constantly weak.” While Yvonne plays down her ordeal, in the span of days since I started writing this article, her condition seemingly worsens as an onset of disability appears on parts of her body.
Vaccine injured victims need help. Other than their physical ailment, they have wrecked up medical costs and suffered psychological pain. Many of their lives are irrevocably changed for the worst, but their plights are often considered necessary collateral damage. They are a neglected number that the public shuns. The national push for vaccines overshadows our conscience.
“No vaccines are perfect” some shouted on social media, ignorant of the fact that most victims do not disagree with that; but they had not even been properly warned of the risks in the first place. Coupled with social pressures, many felt like they practically did not have a choice. Now injured, nobody cares, even if they shall soon be shut out of societal life. Judging by the latest measures come January 2022 requiring the unvaccinated to test daily or they cannot enter their workplaces, Charlene ironically faces the situation that she will soon lose her job, in accepting the jab that should have helped her keep her job.
Yvonne’s TikTok video: https://vt.tiktok.com/ZSe6MN8B5/