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Risk of Myocarditis after COVID vaccine low, but Highest in Young Men

Risk of Myocarditis after COVID vaccine low, but Highest in Young Men

Evidence points to myocarditis as a rare complication of COVID-19 vaccination, but many are worried the long-term side effects are much more extensive.

Risk of Myocarditis after COVID vaccine low, but Highest in Young Men

Evidence points to myocarditis as a rare complication of COVID-19 vaccination, but many are worried the long-term side effects are much more extensive.

Written by Sara Salimi | Copy by Zainabrights, Fatima Alhajri | Design by Fatima El-Zein

In April 2021, the US reported increased cases of myocarditis and pericarditis following the mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.

Data from several studies revealed heightened risks for this health condition, which have occurred most frequently in adolescent and young adult males within a week after receiving the second dose of an mRNA COVID vaccine [1].

The CDC has since claimed that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the elevated risks of myocarditis, but the scientific community and public population are becoming increasingly concerned about the unclear short and long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Myocarditis is an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle, and pericarditis is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. Both are rare conditions that are commonly associated with viral infections, and involve an inflammatory response triggered by the immune system which can reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood [2].

A large international study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that the incidence of myocarditis following vaccination is low, and that most patients make a full recovery. About 93 percent of cases, however, required hospitalization and 23 percent of cases were serious enough to require intensive care [6].

Several studies have traced potential long-term health conditions related to the vaccine. One such study conducted by researchers from the CDC and a number of US universities and hospitals examined the effects of vaccination with products manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna using data from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) [3].

Researchers studied 1,626 cases of myocarditis, and results revealed that the Pfizer vaccine was most associated with higher risk, with 105.9 cases per million doses for males between 16-17, and 70.7 cases per million doses for males between 12-15 after the second vaccine shot. The 18-24 male age group also saw significantly higher rates of myocarditis for both Pfizer and Moderna products [3]. The study also found that it took a median of two days for myocarditis symptoms to begin, and that 82 percent of cases were in males.

The study’s authors concluded that myocarditis is “a rare but serious adverse event that can occur after mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccination” and that “this risk should be considered in the context of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination” [3].

The American Heart Association and the American College of cardiology have since advised that individuals with myocarditis should avoid receiving further doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and refrain from participating in competitive sports for three to six months [5].

A plethora of research studies have confirmed this link between vaccination and myocarditis, which has led the CDC to conduct active surveillance of adolescents and young adults to monitor their progress following heart-related complications after vaccination.

Long-term data is not yet available, but a number of other studies have claimed that the actual number of post-vaccine myocarditis cases are much higher than those recorded in the CDC’s VAERS reporting system [4].

The risky side effects associated with the vaccine are not limited to myocarditis; as the CDC and FDA announced in January, their surveillance system flagged a possible link between the new Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine and strokes in people over 65 [7]. The real-time surveillance system met the criteria warranting investigations into whether such a link exists.

Although risk-benefit analyses reveal that the benefits of mRNA vaccines outweigh the risks, it is unclear whether that data has been properly stratified by age, and the increasing rates of post-vaccine myocarditis and other potential side effects raise key concerns.

The uncertainty associated with long-term effects of vaccination has prompted many to view mRNA vaccines with a more critical eye, especially young men who make up an overwhelming majority of post-vaccine myocarditis cases. While the CDC has undertaken investigations to study a number of health conditions possibly linked to the vaccine, they are selective in their acknowledgement of side-effects.

The attitudes of doctors and other health professionals towards vaccine hesitancy have stifled both the proper reporting and investigation of potential vaccine pitfalls. In an industry that is marred by profit incentives and the largest class-action settlements in history due to negligence, many people feel that their skepticism of these historically negligent companies and organizations is warranted.

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