Gareth O’Gradie, a previously healthy father-of-two, was forced to make an “extreme” decision after a horror diagnosis left doctors stumped.
For Gareth O’Gradie, the 20-centimetre scar on his chest serves as a constant reminder that his life will never be the same after the Covid vaccine.
The Melbourne teacher — a previously healthy father-of-two who was into running, footy, cricket and tennis — had part of his heart removed in February last year as an “extreme” last resort, after seven months bedridden and in constant pain.
Mr O’Gradie, 41, developed severe pericarditis — inflammation of the lining around the heart — soon after receiving his first Pfizer vaccination in July 2021.
“Six days after [the vaccination] I had sudden-onset chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, chills, sweats,” he said. “I’d never known what a heart attack would feel like, but that’s the type of thing I expected.”
He was rushed to hospital and soon diagnosed with vaccine-induced pericarditis. Over the subsequent months, unable to work, he spent 90 days in and out of hospital and was placed on a raft of different medications and therapies, to no avail.
“It came back quite badly in February 2022 and I was in hospital for 35 days — that’s when the surgery took place,” he said.
“In the end I had open heart surgery to remove the pericardium, which had become inflamed and stuck to my heart. It’s extreme. All the heads of different departments, cardiology, rheumatology, cardiothoracic, all had conferences to say, ‘We’ve tried this, what is the next step for this recurrent pericarditis we can’t control the pain for?’ It wasn’t an easy decision. They said, ‘Nothing’s working — this is what we can offer.’”
Mr O’Gradie is one of the three lead applicants on a landmark Covid vaccine injury class action lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday.
He is one of many Australians unhappy about his treatment by the federal government’s Covid vaccine claims scheme.
Anthony Rose, 46, another lead applicant, has experienced incapacitating fatigue and debilitating neurological symptoms following Moderna — but without a definitive link to the vaccine or even a proper diagnosis, he is on his own.
“I’m just treading water waiting to drown, basically,” said Mr Rose.
The former construction management worker and amateur martial artist began experiencing “severe stabbing chest pains” within 24 hours of his vaccine in October 2021, which progressed into “serious neurological issues” over the next two weeks.
“Basically blacking out, collapsing, getting severe head pressure,” he said.
Neurological tests were unable to pinpoint the cause of his symptoms which continue to this day, leaving him out of work and on the brink of homelessness.
According to Mr Rose, he can handle three to four hours per day of light activity such as walking around the house and talking before “my brain just shuts down”.
“I’ve only got a limited amount of function then it just completely shuts down with seizure-like activity — tics, tremors, my legs go, speech goes, vision goes,” he said.
“I’ve done everything — all sorts of red light therapies, hyperbaric chambers, functional neurologists where they had me on all sorts of machines — I’ve exhausted every medical avenue.”
The father-of-two was rejected for compensation and “dumped on Jobseeker”.
“If rent goes up or anything changes in the slightest I’m basically homeless,” he said.
“As far as being a parent it’s devastating. All our options for a prosperous future are gone. I’ve sold everything, that got us 18 months, now I’m at the point loans are defaulting, everything’s gone.”
For Mr O’Gradie, joining the class action was about getting “reasonable recognition and compensation” for himself and others like Mr Rose who are still suffering.
The drastic surgery has resolved the pericardial pain but he has been effectively left with a permanent disability, and severely immunocompromised due to his current medications.
“I no longer have a sac around my heart,” he said.
“The pericardial sac regulates the amount of blood that flows into the heart, sort of stops it from overflowing, so I have severe shortness of breath and fatigue still which affects what I can do with my family. I can’t do sport, I’m never going to play footy again. I can’t do my old role. We’ve managed to get by but long-term … what’s going to happen to me? It’s a bit of a worry.”
The class action, organised and crowd-funded by Queensland GP Dr Melissa McCann, takes aim at the Commonwealth government and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) — along with a number of senior public servants — alleging negligence, breach of statutory duty and misfeasance in public office.
The suit alleges that the respondents approved the vaccines “with no proper or reasonable evidentiary or logical basis to reasonably determine the vaccines to be safe, effective and possessing a positive risk-benefit profile”.
“The action will argue that the Therapeutic Goods Administration did not fulfil their duty to properly regulate the Covid-19 vaccines, resulting in considerable harm and damage to Australians,” Natalie Strijland from NR Barbi Solicitor said in a statement.
Ms Strijland said the action “arises upon the basis that the government did not truly establish that the vaccines were indeed safe or effective for use by the Australian public, and the claim now proceeds upon the basis that the government in fact acted negligently in approving the vaccines and also by failing to withdraw them after approval based upon the known evidence”.
“Australians who have experienced a serious adverse event following Covid-19 vaccination are invited to step forward and register for this class action,” she said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Aged Care said, “The department is aware of a proceeding commenced today in the Federal Court of Australia by applicants represented by NR Barbi Solicitor Pty Ltd. As the matter is before the court it is not appropriate to comment further.”
According to Dr McCann, nearly 500 people have already provided details of their injuries and expressed interest in joining the action, which she said was necessary as the existing compensation scheme had failed Australians.
The scheme has left thousands of people suffering vaccine injuries still waiting for a decision, and has been widely criticised as being overly complex, difficult to access and too narrowly focused on a small number of officially recognised side effects.
As of April 12, Services Australia had received 3501 applications and paid 137 claims totalling more than $7.3 million. Another 2263 claims are still in progress, 405 have been withdrawn and 696 deemed not payable.
Dr McCann said the scheme was “not fit for purpose” and had left many vaccine injured Australians “abandoned with no support” after being promised “fair and accessible” compensation.
As of April 16, the TGA has received 138,307 total adverse event reports from nearly 66 million doses administered, a rate of 0.2 per cent.
The medicines regulator has identified 14 reports where the cause of death was linked to vaccination, from 985 reports received and reviewed. “There have been no new vaccine-related deaths identified since 2022,” the TGA said in its most recent safety report.
“The TGA closely monitors reports of suspected side effects (also known as adverse events) to the Covid-19 vaccines. This is the most intensive safety monitoring ever conducted of any vaccines in Australia.”
The TGA said myocarditis and pericarditis were “usually temporary conditions, with most people getting better within a few days”, noting that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) “continues to emphasise that the protective benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the rare risk of these side effects”.
But Mr O’Gradie believes there has been “misinformation about the safety” of the vaccines from the government.
“I think there has been some cover-up,” he said.
“There was a lot of, you know, ‘We need to not scare the public as part of the vaccine rollout, so let’s not publicise these things.’ There was a large, intentional withholding of information — that doesn’t give people informed consent.”
He stressed that he was “totally not or never have been anti-vaccine”.
“I’m pro-science, I’m well educated,” he said.
Mr Rose, meanwhile, said it was “nothing short of criminal” that the government “continued to push it” even as it received reports of serious reactions and even deaths.
“The fact they’ve got a compensation scheme in the first place — why would you continue if you know there’s something happening?” he said.