Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Linked to Heart Problems Like Myocarditis and Pericarditis in Young People?

This post was last updated on June 16, 2021.

Recently, the CDC said it is looking into reports of heart problems in young people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

These cases have been very rare, and for the most part, mild. But we know that many parents have questions.

Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief Juan C. Salazar, MD, MPH, shares answers.

 

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 Why is the CDC investigating heart problems as part of COVID-19 vaccine safety?

The CDC is looking at several hundred confirmed cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in vaccinated teens and young people under the age of 30. Most cases were reported within two to four days after a dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines – most commonly, the second dose.

These cases have been rare – just a few hundred reports out of millions of vaccinations – and most have gone away on their own or with medical care. And it’s important to keep in mind that these same heart conditions also occur in young people who are not vaccinated.

To learn more about whether this heart inflammation is a side effect of the vaccine or just a coincidence, the CDC decided to investigate. This process is a great example of how the vaccine safety monitoring system works.

> Related: What Parents Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine for Ages 12 and Up

Teenager rolls up shirt sleeve to show band-aid where he received the COVID-19 vaccine

How does the vaccine safety monitoring system work?

Everyone needs to go to the doctor at times, whether or not they’re vaccinated. The CDC and FDA encourage vaccinated patients and their doctors to report many medical events through the vaccine safety system, so they can follow up on the health of individuals who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. This gives them the chance to check for any possible connections between various health issues that come up and the vaccine itself. Most of the time, it’s just a coincidence.

It’s reassuring to know that even after hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the U.S., the CDC and FDA continue to look carefully at even very rare health issues to make sure that the vaccine is safe.

> Related: What Do New Mask Requirements Mean for Kids?

What are myocarditis and pericarditis?

Both conditions affect how the heart functions. Usually, they’re temporary and mild. Myocarditis is an inflammation of a heart muscle called the myocardium. Pericarditis is a swelling and irritation of a heart membrane called the pericardium.

For young people, these conditions are often the result of a viral infection, including a common summer infection called coxsackie virus. The COVID-19 virus may also cause them.

Most cases are go away on their own, without long-term effects. If a case is more severe, it may require a few days in the hospital for medication and monitoring.

Symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid or abnormal heartbeat
  • Fatigue

If your child experiences any of these symptoms – whether or not they’ve been vaccinated – you should call their pediatrician.

> Related: If Everyone But Your Child Has Their COVID-19 Vaccine, Is Summer Travel Safe?

Has the CDC found a link between these heart problems and the COVID-19 vaccine?

So far, the CDC found that the rates of myocarditis and pericarditis reported in vaccinated young people are somewhat higher than expected, so in rare cases, there may be some connection to the COVID-19 vaccine. But we need additional information to know for sure. The CDC is working now to gather that data.

> Related: 4 Things Parents Should Know About Childhood Heart Murmurs

Should my child still get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes! Even if the recent reports of heart problems turn out to be linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, the cases have been very rare, and for the most part, mild.

By comparison, the disease of COVID-19 has been horrific. It has caused devastating illness in many people, including children, and led to severe side effects. As a community, we are only now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to vaccines.

The best thing you can do for your child is to get them vaccinated, and protect them from COVID-19.

 

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