Vaccine-Related Heart Inflammation Risks for Young People Much Lower Than COVID-19 Heart Inflammation Risks
Currently, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer/BionNTech is approved for people age 12 and older, whereas the Moderna vaccine is approved for those over age 18. If the current clinical trials in younger children prove successful, both vaccines will seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for inoculating children between ages 5 and 11 years later this year.
As vaccines are further rolled out to younger cohorts, recent reports that in rare instances adolescents have experienced inflammation of their hearts (myocarditis) shortly after being inoculated with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have understandably alarmed some parents. Although researchers are still trying to work out how the vaccines might cause this ailment, researchers have reported a correlation between vaccination and the onset of this side effect. The good news is that in the vast majority of cases the heart inflammation is safely resolved after a few days. So far, no one in the U.S. diagnosed with myocarditis after vaccination has died.
On balance, most research finds that the risks of this side effect in adolescents and young adults are outweighed by the risks from COVID-19 infection. For example, an August 25, 2021, New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study by Israeli researchers used nationwide data from that country’s largest health organization to compare the incidence of myocarditis among thousands of people inoculated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, unvaccinated people, and infected COVID-19 patients. The researchers report that, while still quite rare, vaccinated people experienced myocarditis at a rate just over three times higher than the unvaccinated. But more crucially, people infected with COVID-19 had 18 times higher risk than people who were not infected with COVID-19. In other words, the currently uninfected face the choice, with respect to heart inflammation, between the lower risks of vaccination versus the considerably higher risks of infection. More importantly, the health downsides of COVID-19 infections are not limited to just a higher risk of heart inflammation compared to those who are vaccinated.
As an accompanying NEJM editorial noted:
What is even more compelling about these data is the substantial protective effect of vaccines with respect to adverse events such as acute kidney injury, intracranial hemorrhage, and anemia, probably because infection was prevented. Furthermore, the persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection appeared to be at substantially higher risk for arrhythmia, myocardial infarction, deep-vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, pericarditis, intracerebral hemorrhage, and thrombocytopenia than those who received the BNT162b2 [Pfizer/BioNTech] vaccine.
A July 27, 2021, preprint analysis of the health records of 48 large U.S. healthcare organizations compared the heart inflammation risks of people under age
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