KOLD INVESTIGATES: Is my COVID-19 vaccine effective if it was administered incorrectly?

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 10:01 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - We have shown you dozens of videos of people receiving their COVID-19 vaccination.

But what if the vaccine is administered incorrectly?

Tucsonan Jay Rietmulder recently booked a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“I was so incredibly relieved,” Rietmulder said.

That relief turned to concern when Rietmulder arrived at the state’s drive-thru vaccination site.

“The volunteer doctor reached into the car and turned my arm a bit, and pinched the skin up and injected the needle at kind of a 45-degree angle,” Rietmulder said.

Rietmulder said he went home and did some research, and also got a second opinion.

“I have a neighbor who is a retired doctor and he saw the injection area and was very puzzled. There is definitely a chance it was not effective,” Rietmulder said.

I took Rietmulder’s story to Tucson Family Physician Cadey Harrel.

“When you bunch up the tissue, it can actually distort where that needle is supposed to go. Additionally, if you are bunching up the tissue and someone has a lot of subcutaneous fat in their arm, it actually can prevent- even with a long needle- getting down into the muscle,” Harrel said.

Harrel said there is no reason to pinch someone’s arm, and it puts the efficacy of the vaccine at risk.

“I like to think that at least there would be some degree of absorption even from the subcutaneous tissue. However the degree of absorption is highly variable from person to person, so the degree of effectiveness is highly variable as well,” Harrel said.

Harrel demonstrated the proper way to administer a COVID-19 vaccine.

“For the intramuscular injection into the deltoid, what we are going to do is we are always going to start by identifying a bony prominence right up here at the top of the shoulder,” Harrel said.

Next, Harrel measures about three finger widths down and that is the site where she injects the vaccine.

Instead of pinching the skin, she does the opposite and creates a flat site.

Harrel said this vaccine should be given at a 90-degree angle.

Rietmulder said this is not how the doctor administered his COVID-19 vaccine.

Rietmulder just received his second vaccine and had no side effects.

“It was very frustrating. It was mind-boggling because I had my hopes up so high,” Rietmulder said.

His doctor has ordered an antibody test, which is scheduled for next week.

We contacted the Arizona Department of Health Services about Reitmulder’s concerns.

Communications Director Steve Elliott sent a response reading, “Thank you for bringing this patient’s concerns to our attention. We would appreciate contact information so clinical staff can follow up with him. We place a high priority on the quality of patient care at our vaccination sites.”

We noticed people’s arms being pinched when receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the state site at the University of Arizona. It is something we asked UA Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen about.

Jenson sent us this statement:

The University of Arizona POD strictly follows CDC guidelines for vaccine administration (needle length, 90o angle, no aspiration, etc.).

According to the Immunization Action Coalition’s Vaccinating Adults: A Step-by-Step Guide, clinicians who administer vaccine should:

Grasp the muscle between the thumb and fingers of your non-injecting hand. The needle should then be inserted perpendicular (that is, at a 90-degree angle) to the skin into the thickest part of the muscle. Insertion should be quick yet firm and steady.

Our medical professionals review the recommended technique with all of our vaccinators, including proper injection site and techniques to avoid shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA).

Harrel and Rietmulder encourage people to advocate for their health and speak up if something does not look or feel right.

For those who prefer to not look at their arms while getting the shot, Harrel recommends bringing someone with you who can make sure the vaccine is administered appropriately.

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