A CDC safety group recently determined that there was a “likely association” between rare instances of heart inflammation and the COVID-19 vaccine after more than a thousand adults developed symptoms after getting their second shot.
As of June 23, about 1,200 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in the U.S. were reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition mainly occurred among male adults 16 and older who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and most commonly occurred after the second dose.
According to the CDC, many of the people who received care for this condition quickly recovered and resumed normal activities.
On a backdrop of more than 300 million COVID-19 shots administered in the U.S., the condition remains extremely rare, occurring in about 12.6 doses per million. With such a low risk of developing the condition, local and federal health officials are still urging those eligible to get their shot in the arm.
“This particular side effect is very, very rare,” Dr. Bina Ahmed, a cardiologist with Cottage Health and member of the Santa Barbara Cardiovascular Medical Group, told the News-Press. “If you do get diagnosed with COVID-19 itself, the outcomes can be much worse, and so this should not be a deterrent to people being vaccinated.”
“This is something that’s being monitored,” she continued. “And I think as we get more data, we’ll have a better understanding of it. And so, the messaging should be loud and clear that all people who are eligible should get vaccinated.”
At Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Dr. Ahmed said she has not treated anyone for the rare condition, but she knows of colleagues at the hospital who have. She said many of the locals who have come to Cottage Hospital with this condition presented with heart attack symptoms, but were treated for myocarditis once hypertension was ruled out.
“From a cardiovascular standpoint, we’re seeing that all of these patients who presented to the hospital were treated with supportive care, and all of them had good outcomes,” Dr. Ahmed said. “And so I think the important thing to note, I think, (the message) for people who are worried about this is that if you do develop symptoms, do seek care. And we’re not seeing any signals that the outcomes are bad for patients who are diagnosed with myocarditis after vaccination.”
Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease specialist at Sansum Clinic and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, said the development of rare side effects is typical with any new medication or vaccine on the market.
While most drug and vaccine side effects are mild, Dr. Fisk said even the rare side effects must be weighed against the risks associated with the disease.
“Any time a medical product comes to market at any time, you have to judge the risk of the product with the risk of the disorder they’re trying to combat,” Dr. Fisk told the News-Press. “So we don’t really look at only the risk of the item that we’re deploying. Whether it be a heart procedure, an abdominal surgery, an orthopedic surgery, a skin topical treatment or a vaccine, you always have to judge (the treatment) in comparison with the risk of what it’s trying to treat.”
When someone is infected with COVID-19, they face the risk of developing serious complications from the illness that could ultimately lead to death, Dr. Fisk added. These complications include those associated with “Long COVID” illness, which include side effects like fatigue, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety and depression.
“When we’re thinking about the COVID vaccines, it’s important that we also realize the significant risk that COVID poses to each one of us and our loved ones,” Dr. Fisk said.
He added, “The way I look at it, comparing the risk of COVID and the risk of the COVID vaccine — it’s a no-brainer decision from my perspective to recommend this vaccine highly because it’s preventing such a devastating and such a common illness, and an illness that, as the Delta variant arrives in Santa Barbara and starts to gain a foothold, is going to become much more common here.”
Ultimately, Dr. Fisk said the COVID-19 vaccines are “exceptionally safe” despite the rare side effects and have been proven to be even safer than the typical vaccines given in childhood, including the HPV and measles vaccines.