Heart Issues in Young COVID Vaccine Recipients Rare, Usually Mild and Quickly Resolve: Experts

WEDNESDAY, June 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Following a special meeting of a vaccine advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the heads of the CDC and many leading U.S. medical organizations came out in strong support of COVID-19 vaccinations for young Americans.

At issue during Wednesday's discussion were rare heart problems in young people who've received the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Millions of young Americans 12 and older have received COVID vaccines. But as of May 31, the CDC said, 216 people had been diagnosed with myocarditis or pericarditis — inflammation of heart muscle or surrounding membrane — after one dose of either vaccine, and 573 after the second dose. Most cases were mild, but 15 patients were still hospitalized as of that date, The New York Times reported.

After looking over the data, a consortium of health agencies said this in a joint statement:

"The facts are clear: This is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination. Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe."

The statement was issued by a group of health agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American Heart Association, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association.

One expert agreed that the chance of any one vaccine recipient getting myocarditis remains very low.

"Developing myocarditis from a COVID vaccine is rare. Yet it's still important that the medical community is aware of this possibility, in particular when an otherwise healthy young adult shows certain unusual symptoms after being vaccinated," said Dr. James de Lemos, a cardiologist with UT Southwestern Medical Center and author of a Circulation paper published last week on the topic. "We also need to study this further to understand who may be at greater risk for this kind of reaction and whether there are any long-term health effects. So far all the patients we've documented have had recovery of symptoms in a few days and done well afterwards."

Wednesday's meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices looked over the accumulated data.

According to the Times, the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine was linked to about twice as many cases as the second dose of the vaccine made by Moderna.

More than half of those heart problems occurred in people aged 12 to 24, even though that age group accounted for only 9% of the millions of doses given to Americans.

"We understand the significant interest many Americans have in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, especially for younger people," leaders from each of the organizations said in the joint statement. But they believe the risks of not getting the vaccine far outweigh any potential rare side effect.

"We strongly encourage everyone age 12 and older who are eligible to receive the vaccine under Emergency Use Authorization to get vaccinated," the groups said. "Especially with the troubling Delta variant increasingly circulating, and more readily impacting younger people, the risks of being unvaccinated are far greater than any rare side effects from the vaccines. If you get COVID-19, you could get severely ill and be hospitalized or even die. Even if your infection is mild, you or your child could face long-term symptoms following COVID-19 infection such as neurological problems or diminished lung function."

Along with reassessing the use of the vaccines in teens and young adults, recommendations of the advisory committee may help guide decisions about immunizing children younger than 12 when vaccines become available for them, the Times said.

The CDC reported this month that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among adolescents in the United States was about three times higher than hospitalizations linked to influenza over three recent flu seasons, the Times reported.

As of June 10, nearly 17,000 children in 24 states had been hospitalized for COVID-19 and 330 children had died, according to data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

More information

There's more on myocarditis at the CDC.

SOURCES: James de Lemos, MD, cardiologist, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; June 23, 2021, joint statement, numerous U.S. health agencies; The New York Times

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