Bethel Park mother left paralyzed after getting first dose of Pfizer vaccine, doctors say nervous system played a part

BETHEL PARK, Pa. — There have been some negative side effects reported worldwide from the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, but a Bethel Park woman told Channel 11 she has been affected by something that hadn’t been seen at all yet: paralysis.

Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital ran a bunch of tests but then Rachael Cecere, 33, from Bethel Park was moved to the Cleveland Clinic a few days ago.

She spoke exclusively with Channel 11 from her hospital bed at the clinic. She received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine last week at Rite Aid in Caste Village.

Twelve hours later, Cecere said almost her entire body was paralyzed.

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“It was the scariest thing in the world to go to sleep completely fine (and walking), to wake up 1:30 in the morning and not be able to move at all,” the woman said. “I’m literally counting on my daughter to hand me my phone to call to get help.”

Paramedics came and rushed her to Jefferson Hospital. In the coming days, she was moved to Allegheny General Hospital in the Northside and then the Cleveland Clinic -- as doctors ran a multitude of tests to figure out how and why this happened. An MRI and spinal tap were clear, and her blood work all came back negative, ruling out any rare diseases or disorders.

“There is just nothing they can find wrong with me. No underlying conditions, I have nothing in my history and they are basically telling me, ‘You’re healthy and we can’t figure out why this is going on,’” the woman told Channel 11.

She has been able to regain most of the feeling and strength back to her arms, but her legs are still a point of concern for doctors.

“The Cleveland Clinic doctors believe the nervous system had a reaction to the shot which caused stress in my nervous system and caused the paralysis from my neck down,” Cecere explained. “Which is now just lingering in my hips, down.”

She has also been told that she is healthy, with no underlying conditions.

“So, they were able to rule out any inflammation in the spine. They were able to rule out this is not a Guillain Barre Syndrome that some people do get as a reaction to vaccines flu vaccines for example,” Cecere detailed.

Dr. Dave Weber, an infectious disease doctor with UPMC, said he has not heard of anything like this happening anywhere in the world with the Pfizer vaccine.

“I’m sure there is more than one explanation, and it would be premature for me to judge if it’s one of the side effects of the vaccine or not,” Weber said. “I think it definitely needs to be looked into and be reported.”

Pfizer’s director of global media relations issued the following statement regarding this woman’s mysterious paralysis:

“We take adverse events that are potentially associated with our COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, very seriously. We closely monitor all such events and collect relevant information to share with global regulatory authorities. At this time, our ongoing review has not identified any safety signals with paralysis and the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. To date, more than 2001 million people around the world have been vaccinated with our vaccine. It is important to note that serious adverse events that are unrelated to the vaccine are unfortunately likely to occur at a similar rate as they would in the general population.”

Cecere’s family stated that her case was reported to Pfizer, but that they haven’t been contacted by the company yet.

It sounds like Cecere is going to make a full recovery. Here is what she is looking forward to the most.

“I just can’t wait to pick my daughter up and spin her around and hug and just hold her.”