Did the pneumococcal vaccine lay Lou Ferrigno low?

So we took the puppies back to the shelter over the weekend, and, I must admit, I’m still kind of sad. But duty calls, particularly since I promised you guys that I’d try to maintain a regular blogging schedule at least until the week of Christmas, when I’ll probably take all or most of that week off from blogging. Today, though, I don’t think I have the energy for a really deep dive into anything. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there was a story that came to my attention over the weekend of a supposed “vaccine injury” in a celebrity. As you will see, the story is…odd. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “vaccine injury” story quite like this one, and I almost didn’t bother to take it on because there’s so little information provided that it’s hard to say much. The story involves Lou Ferrigno, the man made famous in the late 1970s playing The Incredible Hulk on TV. It began with a Tweet from December 12:

Not surprisingly, antivaxers pounced on the report:





You get the idea. Yes, Twitter is a cesspool of antivaccine pseudoscience, and any time any celebrity says anything vaccine-related he or she can expect to be buried in a tsunami of antivaccine stupidity. Still, something happened to send a man a strong as Ferrigno to the hospital. What happened to him?

My first question was: Which “pneumonia shot” did Ferrigno get? Well, he is 67 years old. (I hadn’t realized that he was only in his late 20s when he played the Hulk; I thought he was older.) In any event, if you look at the CDC adult vaccine schedule, you’ll see that the “pneumonia vaccine” is almost certainly the pneumococcal vaccine, either the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®), which protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria, or the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax®), which protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends one of these vaccines for adults aged 65 or over or for younger adults at higher risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. So I presume that Ferrigno got one of these two vaccines.

My next question was: Biceps? Normally adult vaccines are not injected in the biceps, but rather the deltoid muscle, and certainly Ferrigno lacks for neither. Back in the day, when I was in high school and college, I was very skinny, which made me worry getting any vaccine whether I had enough muscle to avoid a needle stuck into the bone (the head of my humerus, to be precise). In any event, the CDC reports that after vaccination with Prevnar one-third of those receiving the shot had some swelling at the site of injection, and that after vaccination with Pneumovax about half experience redness or pain at the site of the injection and that around 1 in 100 develop more severe local reactions.

So let’s go back. There really isn’t much to go on other than the Tweets, which is all that most of the news stories I found reported. For instance, this story from CNN cited a physician who speculated:

The fluid in Ferrigno’s bicep could have been a reaction to the vaccine, or it might have been because the vaccination itself was not done properly, according to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The skin might not have been appropriately disinfected before the shot, or the needle or vaccine could have been mishandled, said Schaffner, who did not treat Ferrigno.

My first thought reading this story is that the volume of fluid in a vaccine is usually 1 mL or less. Most contain 0.5 mL of fluid. Assuming that the vaccine was inadvertently injected into Ferrigno’s bicep, that’s not a lot of fluid in a very large bicep. In any case, What Dr. Schaffner came up with is about what I could come up with, except I can’t help but wonder if maybe the needle hit a blood vessel (possibly more likely in someone whose as muscular as Ferrigno is), leading to bleeding, leading to a hematoma. Alternatively, maybe he had a small abscess from improper sterile technique. The thing is, these possibilities would rarely be serious enough to require even an overnight admission to the hospital. Also, Ferrigno didn’t mention infection, which seems very odd if he had some sort of cellulitis or abscess.

Ferrigno hasn’t commented since last Friday and even then just expressed gratitude that he got out of the hospital in time for a planned appearance that day:

So what happened? Damned if I know. Barring more information from Ferrigno, we might never know. My best guess is that he either had a really bad local reaction or a hematoma and went to the ER. For some reason, it appears that he was briefly admitted to the hospital. Neither of these are life-threatening or reasons not to get vaccinated according to the CDC recommended schedule.

Not surprisingly, the angry band of antivaxers over at that wretched hive of scum and antivax quackery, Age of Autism, are all over Ferrigno’s story. I was amused to see how far they were stretching. The word “pretzel-like” comes to mind:

Note: While most media is using “HULK HURT!” headlines to report on actor Lou Ferrigno’s hospitalization as a result of a pneumonia vaccine injury, I decided to go with a straight forward headline, no mention of his most famous role. Why? Because vaccine injury is a real phenomenon that strikes and strikes down real people. Like the man, Lou Ferrigno, who happened to play The Hulk 30 years ago. Or my daughter Mia, who turns 24 years old today. When a child is injured, the media calls us parents morons looking to blame someone, something, anything. I am glad to see the reporting on this injury.

While fluid in the bicep is probably not life threatening, any American hospitalization costs significant time and money. And what better place to catch a disease, maybe even pneumonia. Makes me see…. green. (Yeah, I had to go there. 😉 )

AoA just doesn’t do humor well. Come to think of it, like all antivaxers they’re all too desperate to take any vaccine-related story and try to convince you that it means that vaccines cause autism.