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COVID-19 Vaccine and Risk for Heart Inflammation in Youth: What Parents Need to Know

Jul 02, 2021
Male teen standing against a blank wall

In a statement issued this week, federal health officials said that there is a likely association between currently available COVID-19 vaccines and myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart, in adolescents and young adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among others, are still strongly urging youth to get vaccinated against COVID-19, however. Here is what you need to know about these conditions and why officials say the benefits of having your child vaccinated outweigh the risks.

What are myocarditis and pericarditis?

Myocarditis is inflammation or swelling of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of the thin, saclike membrane around the heart. Symptoms of both can include chest pain, abnormal heartbeat and/or shortness of breath. Most cases improve on their own without intervention. Some children with myocarditis or pericarditis may require medications to reduce inflammation. In rare cases, children may develop arrhythmias (abnormal heart beating) or develop weakness of the heart.

How rare is myocarditis and pericarditis after getting vaccinated for COVID-19?

Health officials say getting myocarditis or pericarditis after being vaccinated for COVID-19 is extremely rare. In cases that have been confirmed, nearly all were mild and individuals have recovered with minimal treatment.

Are some youth more at risk for getting myocarditis or pericarditis after being vaccinated than others?

More cases of myocarditis and pericarditis after being vaccinated have been seen in males than in females. The highest reports of these conditions are coming from males who are 16-24 years of age. More cases are also being reported after the second dose of the vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe for my child? Are the benefits really greater than the risks?

Yes. Severe side effects of vaccination are rare in children and the known benefits of vaccination far outweigh any potential risks. Though COVID-19 infections in youth are generally mild, severe infection can occur in children and adolescents. Even mild infections can still lead to MIS-C, a life-threatening inflammatory reaction to the virus seen several weeks after children recover from COVID-19.

Are there other causes of myocarditis and pericarditis in children besides vaccination?

Yes. Children with COVID-19, particularly adolescents, may rarely develop myocarditis or pericarditis from the virus. Additionally, these conditions may rarely occur in children from many other infectious and non-infectious causes.

What should I watch for after vaccination?

If your child experiences chest pain, abnormal heartbeat and/or shortness of breath after receiving either dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, contact your primary care provider and report it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System

As a result of this likely link between the COVID-19 vaccine and myocarditis and pericarditis, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is adding warnings to COVID-19 fact sheets explaining the small risk for these conditions. In the meantime, you can read the full statement from the AAP here.  

Vaccinating youth against COVID-19 is crucial to reducing the spread of the virus within the community. If you or your child are at least 12 years old and are eligible for the vaccine (as defined by the Ohio Department of Health guidelines), you can click here to schedule a vaccine appointment. 

 

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Deipanjan Nandi, MD MSc
Heart Transplant and Heart Failure Program

Deipanjan "Deip" Nandi, MD, is a cardiologist with the Heart Transplant & Heart Failure Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, he went on to receive an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from Harvard University, and his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine.

Simon Lee, MD
Simon Lee, MD
Cardiology

Dr. Simon Lee is an attending in The Heart Center, director of the Coronary Anomalies Program and co-director of the Kawasaki Disease Program.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Matthew Washam, MD, MPH
Infectious Diseases

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.