Some adolescents and young adults developed an inflammatory heart condition following a COVID-19 vaccination. 

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Approximately one week after those 12 to 15 years of age received the green light for the COVID-19 vaccination, word spread that there could be an issue.

No, it’s not time to panic, but it is time to raise awareness. 

Remember just over a month ago, when rare cases of blood clots formed in women who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Well, some adolescents and young adults developed a rare heart condition, potentially as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently investigating the claim, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted its awareness of the potential side effect on May 17, following a public meeting of the The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Technical Work Group. The group reviews post-authorization COVID-19 vaccine safety data on a weekly basis.

The claim noted that the COVID vaccine, in some rare cases, potentially caused myocarditis. That’s the medical term for an inflammation of the heart.

What Do We Know About Myocarditis?

The CDC’s website doesn’t list the specific number of myocarditis cases specifically linked to the vaccine. It merely cites “relatively few reports.” It also doesn’t specify which brand of vaccine had reported cases, though Pfizer is the only current option for those 12 to 15 years of age.

However, there are some occurring trends in the cases researched. 

The symptoms typically occurred within four days of vaccination. They also started more often following the second dose, rather than the first. 

Current information also points to a younger, biologically-based patient profile. The heart condition occurred predominantly in adolescents and young adults and more often in males than females.

Dr. Jeffrey Vergales, a pediatric cardiology specialist at UVA Health, expressed that one of those findings, specifically, did not surprise him. That’s because myocarditis typically impacts more males than females. 

However, another aspect differed – the age of onset for those vaccinated. Myocarditis is not solely a childhood condition.

“Adults can get myocarditis. Newborn babies,” Vergales said. “In fact, pre-natal, like, fetuses can get myocarditis as well. So it’s seen across all ages.”

The CDC noted that most known cases discovered after the COVID vaccine appeared mild. 

Not a New Condition

Myocarditis did not originate with the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, Carl Ludwig Alfred Fiedler first discovered the condition in 1900, while performing an autopsy using a microscope. 

“It’s not a new condition,” Vergales said. “It’s a condition we see and evaluate people for all the time in pediatric cardiology. So that, in and of itself, is not new.” 

So what causes myocarditis? Well, a number of things, actually. The condition sometimes arises in response to a viral, bacterial, parasitic or fungal infection.

“It can sometimes be infectious ideology,” Vergales said. “It can sometimes be drugs. [And] it can sometimes be other disease processes.”

In the younger population, the cardiologist noted the condition typically starts because of a virus. 

While many cases remain mild, others progress to tragic circumstances.

“It all depends on how sick they are. Thankfully the majority of myocarditis that we see recovers and those kids do not have longstanding disfunction. That is true,” Vergales said. “Unfortunately, there’s definitely a subset of kids and young adults that can get very sick from it and they can have ongoing disfunction to the point that some of those kids will potentially die from it. And some of those kids will end up having to undergo a heart transplant for it. That can happen with this disease.”

Onset After Vaccination 

The reason adolescents and young adults sometimes develop myocarditis following a vaccine relates to an onset caused by an infection. 

“Viruses in this age population are the most common reasons to cause that. And influenza virus is a very common one that causes it. Other things like something called coxsackievirus is a very common one that can cause it. It goes without saying, though, and the reason that it probably happens is because the entity – i.e. the virus – causes a reaction that develops inflammation around the heart,” Vergales said. “You could also say that you could see logically why someone that receives a vaccine that develops the same immune reaction that can develop inflammation, so the same reason that some people will get sore arms with the vaccine or feel under the weather for a day or so with the vaccine is because they are generating inflammation in their body. That’s the point of vaccines.”

The possibility of myocarditis developing following the COVID vaccine did not shock the doctor.

“It’s not surprising that just like a small group of people when they get infected with the virus develop inflammation around their heart, there’s going to be a small group of people that when they get vaccinated are going to develop inflammation around their heart,” Vergales said.

Vergales noted that the concept of developing myocarditis following a vaccination is not new to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“We’ve seen it with other vaccines,” Vergales said. “It’s been demonstrated with influenza vaccine before, it’s been demonstrated with smallpox vaccination before [and] it’s been demonstrated with tetanus and pertussis vaccination before.”

Could Myocarditis Happen to My Kids?

Everyone’s body reacts differently to infections and vaccinations. 

“I guess the question is, ‘Why do certain kids’ [bodies] set up the inflammation that way in their heart?’ We don’t really know that. There’s a lot of, kind of, theories out there and research that we try to do to try to figure out why certain kids and adults react to viruses and inflation the way that they otherwise do,” Vergales said. “But thankfully myocarditis is rare, but not super rare that we don’t see it every year.”

While Vergales noted that youth cases of myocarditis occur in Virginia, he stressed that the chances of developing the condition remain slim.

“The first thing I would tell parents is [that] this is exceedingly rare,” Vergales said. 

For those with concerns, the doctor listed symptoms to monitor.

“Oftentimes kids that have myocarditis will have profound shortness of breath, will oftentimes have some significant chest pain and chest discomfort. Myocarditis is not a sudden, gentle diagnosis. Pediatricians know this, like, you know. You know someone’s got it because it’s not like, ‘Oh, a kid feels a little bad’ or anything,” Vergales said. “I just kind of tell parents [that] if something doesn’t seem right with your kid, you should have them evaluated by their regular doctor because there are some signs and symptoms that a regular doctor can kind of piece out to diagnose myocarditis. It’s not the simplest of diagnoses and it’s not something that there’s a certain sign that someone would know.”

Taking the proper precautions, the CDC plans to follow-up on the myocarditis cases that developed after the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Everything’s under a microscope,” Vergales said. “We’re looking at things so, so closely to make sure.” 

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com 

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