Man who had severe AstraZeneca reaction cannot change vaccine, says HSE

Karl Cretzan (25), who has cerebral palsy and scoliosis, wants Pfizer for second jab

A man with cerebral palsy and scoliosis who says he suffered a severe reaction from his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been told that he cannot switch to a different vaccine for his second jab.

Karl Cretzan (25) says he suffered violent shakes, cold sweats and headaches that were impervious to painkillers after getting his first dose of AstraZeneca.

The ordeal lasted almost two weeks, he says. “It was the worst feeling of my life.”

A wheelchair user, he has been “locked up” for the past 16 months and hoped the vaccine would free him to live as normal a life as he can, given his chronic disabilities.


But when he was offered the second AstraZeneca jab last month, he refused.

“I can’t take the chance,” he says.

“That’s how bad it was. I never, never ask to go to bed in the middle of the day. I could be hanging out of my chair and I wouldn’t ask to go to bed.

“For nearly two weeks I had to ask my mam or my dad to lie me down in my bed for an hour or two because the headaches were that bad. I was so sick I couldn’t even take my medication for my disability. It was actually frightening.”

His mother, Lorraine Cretzan, looked after him throughout, worried that he would deteriorate further.

Karl says he never normally gets headaches and described the symptoms immediately after his jab on April 6th in his native Waterford city as worse than the aftermath of major neck and back surgeries he has endured in recent years.

Vulnerable and only partially protected from Covid-19, he has been pleading with the Health Service Executive to give him a second jab of Pfizer, one of the other available vaccines.

Request refused

Last Friday he was told by the HSE, on the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), that this wasn’t an option.

There was “inadequate information on safety and efficacy on mixing Covid vaccines”, the HSE said, citing advice earlier this month from the World Health Organisation.

While it accepted that national immunisation committees “can make their own decisions”, the HSE added that it was still awaiting further advice from Niac.

Mr Cretzan says: “The last year and a half has been absolutely desperate for me, and with the new Delta variant, it is more frightening now than ever before ... I’m not fully vaccinated. I need a second dose of a vaccine.”

Lorraine, who gave up work when Karl was born to look after him full-time, agrees that a second dose of AstraZeneca is not an option for her son.

“There is no way he could take the second jab after what he went through. We can’t take the chance,” she says. “I was really, really worried. I am still worried now. We’ve all been vaccinated to protect Karl, but we can’t protect him from the world and he can’t stay locked up much more.”

The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) says it is not aware of others cases similar to Karl’s in the disability community in terms of negative experience of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We in DFI encourage everyone who can to take up the offer of vaccines as soon as possible. We also hope that Karl finds a resolution to his dilemma so that he can be afforded as much protection as possible against the virus and resume his normal life,” it adds.

In an email to Karl on Friday, the HSE said it had detailed his case to its national immunisation office.

“At this time [it] doesn’t leave us with the option of you receiving a different Covid vaccine as the second dose of your vaccination schedule so that you are then fully vaccinated against Covid infection.”

Debilitating symptoms

According to the email, Niac advises that the only reasons for not taking a second dose of AstraZeneca are if someone develops anaphylaxis or thrombosis – a blood clot – after the first dose.

While the HSE acknowledges Karl’s “serious debilitating symptoms” after his first dose, it says “giving the second vaccine is a clinical decision here”.

“Niac cannot recommend the Pfizer vaccine after the [AstraZeneca] vaccine for this patient,” the email states.

“So there is no way for the patient to be fully vaccinated by taking a different Covid vaccine at the moment.”

Asked for a response, the HSE said it could not “comment on individual cases as to do so would breach our duty of confidentiality to the individuals concerned”.

“However, the HSE is administering the vaccine programme in line with Niac guidance,” a spokeswoman said.