More than 300 cases of heart inflammation after COVID-19 vaccinations have been reported in young people across the U.S., including some young San Diegans.
“This may be coincidental, a person may be predisposed to this, it may be as we see often in this vaccine that our own immune system starts reacting in an inflammatory way against our own muscles,” said Dr. Michael Welch, an allergist and immunologist at Rady Children’s Hospital, where eight boys have been admitted after suffering painful heart muscle inflammation after getting vaccinated.
According to San Diego County, 105,308 San Diego residents age 12 to 17 have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. This means the eight young people reported to have experienced heart symptoms represent 0.007 percent of all vaccine recipients.
Still, the cases of either myocarditis or pericarditis, which involve inflammation of the heart or the surrounding tissue, though rare, are higher than what would be expected for this age group.
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The shot from Pfizer-BioNTech is the only one authorized so far for children ages 12 through 17, though young adults 18 and older can receive either Pfizer, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The CDC has acknowledged “rare” but increased reports of myocarditis and pericarditis mostly in boys and young men after they received the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. The inflammation of the heart muscle or lining typically arises within a week, more often after the second of the two shots, with chest pain, shortness of breath, and a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heartbeat.
Welch said one possible explanation for more males reporting symptoms could be as simple as more males being vaccinated than females and added that most cases are treated with anti-inflammatory medication, with patients being kept under observation for a few days.
A link between the symptoms and vaccine hasn’t been proven yet, but the CDC has said evidence is growing stronger.
Welch told NBC 7 the heart condition is commonly seen in patients recovering from viral infections, as pathogens, including enteroviruses and the bacteria that cause common staph and strep infections, are known to cause rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis.
“It could turn out to be just the, the enterovirus is the cause of this and it's totally unrelated to the mRNA vaccine,” he said.
He said a patient recovering from COVID-19 could experience the symptoms as well, which is why he said further investigation is necessary to prove whether vaccines are causing the condition.
“As long as there is no evidence in the near future of any ongoing problems with this population who are having the side effects of this, I think they're going to allow the vaccine to continue,” he explained.
Despite the controversy, Welch said the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks.
“There's always a risk with anything you do,” he said. “We still have the AMA, the Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, our own county public health department is still recommending that kids, young teenagers and young adults still get this vaccine.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched an investigation into whether the condition is being directly caused by the vaccine. The agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices's meeting, originally scheduled for June 18, was moved to June 24 and June 25 in observance of the Juneteenth holiday weekend.
The CDC’s upcoming meeting will be open to the public to view. The group will discuss the latest research and safety data on myocarditis following coronavirus vaccines but is not expected to make any changes to COVID-19 vaccination recommendations.