CDC Further Investigating Heart Inflammation Cases After Pfizer, Moderna Covid-19 Vaccination

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to get at the heart of this matter.

As I first covered for Forbes in late April, there have been reports of people developing myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving doses of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna Covid-19 mRNA vaccine. Leah Campbell and Robert Hart have since given updates for Forbes on such reports including a case series of seven teenage boys in the U.S. developing “chest pain and heart inflammation within days of receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 shot.”

Now this isn’t a “dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria” type of situation that Peter Venkman, PhD of something, described in the movie Ghostbusters. Far from it. These reports of myocarditis and pericarditis still have been quite rare. And just because something happens after vaccination doesn’t necessarily mean its caused by the vaccination. For example, if a watermelon fell on your head after you got vaccinated, it’s unlikely that “attacks by large fruit” should be included as a possible vaccine side effect.

Nevertheless, the CDC is taking a closer look, and rightfully so. The CDC has to take all possible serious side effects seriously. This will include discussing the matter at an upcoming June 18 meeting of the ACIP. In this case, ACIP is not short for Air Conditioning Improvement Program, which would be odd, but instead stands for Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is comprised of external experts who advise the CDC on vaccine matters.

As I have described before for Forbes, your myocardium is a term for your heart muscles because “myo” stands for “muscle” and “cardium” stands for “heart.” Your pericardium is the thin membranous sac that surrounds your heart. The suffix “-itis” stands for being “inflamed.” Therefore, myocarditis means that your heart muscles are inflamed. Pericarditis means that your sac is inflamed, the sac around your heart that is.

Typically, you don’t want any parts of your heart to be inflamed, unless it is just some kind of metaphor for love. Inflammation can interfere with your heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of your body and lead to abnormal heart rhythms as well. While milder cases can resolve without longer-lasting problems, such conditions could lead to more severe, long-lasting, and even life-threatening consequences. So myocarditis or pericarditis shouldn’t be like a mild case of indigestion. You shouldn’t say during a date, “oh, it’s nothing. Just my myocarditis acting up. What do you want to do after we’ve finished this pile of oysters?”

In June 10 presentation to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee, Tom Shimabukuro, MD, MPH Deputy Director of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, summarized reports of these conditions from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) as of the end of May. Maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the VAERS allows anyone to enter a report of a problem after getting a vaccine, any vaccine. Note that this vaccine safety system accepts all reports from anyone. So in theory, you could report that you became a pink unicorn after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. That’s why all reports ultimately need to be reviewed and vetted by medical experts before being taken seriously. For example, you’d have to prove that you are indeed a pink unicorn and that there isn’t some other obvious reason for your transformation.

As of May 31, 2021, the VAERS had 789 reported cases of myocarditis or pericarditis in people after they’ve received doses of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. Most (573) of these reports were from after the second dose. The median times to first noticing symptoms was three days after the first dose and two doses after the second dose, meaning that half of the time symptoms started within a few days of vaccination. Although there were reports of symptoms starting as far as 33 days after the first dose and 80 days after the second dose.

Over half (475) of the 789 reported cases have been among those 30 years and younger. However, so far, only 226 of the 475 cases have met the CDC working case definition, meaning that they indeed seemed to be legitimate cases of myocarditis or pericarditis after the vaccination event. Most (81%) of these cases have had a documented full recovery. The rest either have ongoing symptoms or currently lack follow-up information to determine what’s happened.

Of course, this still doesn’t mean that all 226 cases were caused by the vaccines. But the 226 is higher than the number of cases that you’d expect among this age group if you just account for other possible causes of myocarditis and pericarditis. As Paul A. Offit, MD, the Director of the Vaccine Education Center and a Professor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, explained in the following video, a number of different viruses can cause myocarditis and many of these tend to circulate during the Spring: 

In fact, one of the viruses that could cause myocarditis or pericarditis is the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Keep in mind that 226 cases would still make such events very rare since over 4.85 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and over 4.03 million doses of the Moderna vaccine had already been administered by May 29. Using your abacus and finger and toes to make the appropriate calculates would yield rates of about 2.8 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis per one million first doses administered and 16.1 cases per million second doses administered. Again this is like beef cooked at 120 to 130º F, still quite rare.

Still, though, this situation merits further investigation. Again, myocarditis or pericaditis are not just “dust yourself off and walk it off” conditions. If you have symptoms of either condition such as chest pain, rapid or abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath, or swelling of your legs, ankles and feet, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Of course, these should be unexplained symptoms. So momentary heart palpitations after seeing BTS or a bowl of mac-n-cheese may not count.

For the upcoming ACIP meeting, you do have the opportunity to submit written comments by June 18, 2021, or submit a request to make an oral comment at the meeting no later than 11:59 p.m., EST, on June 16, 2021. Of course, just because you submit a request doesn’t mean that you be allotted the up to three minutes to speak at the meeting. The CDC will have to determine how many of the requests are legitimate versus the “how do I order a hamburger” or “keys seem to stick to my head after vaccination, what are you going to do about it” comments that are unverifiable and not related to the topic at hand. Of the requests that seem to fall within the scope of the meeting, CDC will conduct a lottery to determine who will be able to speak. After all, time will be limited.

At this point, just because the CDC is investigating these cases doesn’t mean that you should not get vaccinated. Again myocarditis and pericarditis have been rare occurrences. No one has established cause and effect yet. It remains to be seen whether there were other possible reasons behind the myocarditis and pericarditis cases.

Nevertheless, once again, the CDC and FDA must take all potential serious adverse events seriously. Otherwise, the risk is losing the public’s trust. The CDC and FDA must continue to be extra cautious. Some people or bots have continued to push the narrative that Covid-19 vaccines have not been fully tested and that somehow safety checks were skipped before rolling out the vaccines. The best way to combat misinformation or disinformation is to be transparent about any vaccine-related decisions and to fully investigate any real concerns. Like the Titanic, the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines in 2020 hit some major icebergs. President Donald Trump’s administration did not take the proper steps needed to better ready the public for the Covid-19 vaccines. Thus, the current administration will need to compensate for those early missteps. That includes doing what can be done so that your “heart will go on” after getting the Covid-19 vaccines.

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