Heart broken, still fighting: Interview with Covid vaccine-injured youth worker on his Tribunal win
"I've got the heart of a 90-year-old" says 44-year-old Daniel Shepherd
Adelaide youth worker Daniel Shepherd’s Covid vaccine injury compensation win made headlines this week after the South Australian Employment Tribunal ruled that he is to receive income support and payment of medical expenses for his injury.
But the 44-year-old single father, who says he is “disabled” by post-vaccine pericarditis, is not celebrating yet.
Shepherd lodged a workers compensation claim after developing pericarditis related to a Pfizer booster shot that he was required to get under a workplace directive, in February 2022.
His claim was initially rejected when his former employer, the Department of Child Protection (DCP), argued that it was a lawful State Government mandate that caused Shepherd’s injury, not his employment.
However, a landmark Tribunal ruling in mid-January determined that although a State Government directive was in place, Shepherd’s employment was "a significant contributing cause" to his injury, and that he was therefore eligible for workers compensation.
Shepherd is glad for the win, but he told Dystopian Down Under, “We’ve still got a little while before we celebrate. They have 28 days to appeal the decision. If they appeal, it’s straight to the High Court.”
If the DCP chooses to appeal, it could put Shepherd in limbo for another year or more, as happened to Sydney teacher Diane Dawking. Dawking won workers compensation for “psychologic injury” caused by the way the New South Wales Department of Education implemented a state Covid vaccine mandate in November 2022.
However, the Department initiated an appeal, which was not heard until December 2023. Finally, on 31 January 2024, the Department’s appeal was dismissed, and Dawking will receive compensation.
For Shepherd, there’s a lot riding on his compensation claim, and he intends to fight all the way if he has to.
“I’m a single parent of a five-year-old son. I want to be able to feed my kid until I’m better,” says Shepherd, who cannot perform his former role with the DCP, and is unsure if he’ll ever be able to work again.
“My job was kicking the footy, surfing. I had the dream job, it was not something I want to give up, and a lot of kids relied on me.” Now, Shepherd is reliant on income protection insurance payments, but those will run out in a few months, he says, and without compensation, he and his son will be left in a precarious financial position.
It’s not just the financial aspect of his situation that angers Shepherd, though. “This whole situation has p*ssed me off,” says Shepherd, emotional. “It’s affected my son’s development. I’m limited with what I can do with him.”
“Some weeks I feel better, some weeks I feel like I’m dying,” he says. For the former jogger, even walking can be too much. “My kid’s school is 400m from my house. I walk there, I get about halfway back, and I get tired walking that last 200m. I used to jog 4km uphill.”
Ironically, Shepherd says data collected by his fitness app provided evidence for his workers compensation claim of his high level of fitness prior to the booster shot that damaged his heart. Shepherd’s post-vaccine diagnosis was confirmed by two cardiologists, and was also admitted by his former employer.
The Australian Department of Health’s (DOH) latest guidance on post-vaccine pericarditis is that it is a “rare” side effect that mainly affects men under the age of 40. Data collected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) shows that for Shepherd’s age bracket (40-49), approximately three cases of pericarditis are reported for every 100,000 doses of Pfizer Covid vaccine administered.
The DOH states that post-vaccine pericarditis is a generally “short, self-limiting” (i.e. self-resolving) condition, and that, “During the consent process, all people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine should be advised of the very rare risk of myocarditis and/or pericarditis after vaccination.”
However, Shepherd does not recall being advised of the risk of pericarditis at any of his three vaccination appointments.
“I’d never even heard of pericarditis,” he says. “I just knew people got achey joints sometimes, a sore arm for a week or so, brain fog. I was never told pericarditis was a potential side effect.”
Whatsmore, Shepherd’s experience of post-vaccine pericarditis has been neither short, nor self-limiting. “I've got the heart of a 90-year-old. My chest is still sore to touch some days, like someone kneed me in the chest,” Shepherd says, almost two years after his initial injury.
“I’ve got a disabled parking permit. Some days I walk 50m and I’m wrecked.” Shepherd says he also has ongoing damage to one of his heart valves from a particularly aggressive “flare-up.”
For now, Shepherd is covering his bases. Though he hopes his workers compensation claim won’t be overturned on appeal, Shepherd has a claim in progress with the Federal Covid vaccine injury compensation scheme just in case. He has been advised that he can receive one or the other, but not both.
Shepherd has also applied for a disability pension, and has joined a Covid vaccine injury class action, which filed in the Federal Court last year.
“The easiest thing would be to get better and go back to normal,” says Shepherd. Until then, he’ll keep fighting.
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