You may have heard about rare COVID-19 vaccine side effects called myocarditis and pericarditis, or heart inflammation. As a parent, it's understandable to have some questions and concerns about this news. You may even wonder if you should delay your child's COVID-19 vaccine.
But experts who are closely monitoring the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine recommend that people 12 years and older can and should continue to get vaccinated.
"The most important thing to know is that all the myocarditis and pericarditis cases related to the COVID-19 vaccine have been very mild. The kids with this side effect make a full and quick recovery," says Ryan Butts, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. "The risks associated with the COVID-19 virus are far greater than any risk of heart inflammation from the vaccine."
Dr. Butts answers questions about heart inflammation and the COVID-19 vaccine and what parents should know about vaccinating children and teens.
The risks associated with the COVID-19 virus are far greater than any risk of heart inflammation from the vaccine.
What are myocarditis and pericarditis?
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac or lining around the heart (pericardium). These conditions often occur together, which may be referred to as myopericarditis.
This inflammation is usually a reaction to the body's immune system fighting off an infection, including viral infections like the flu, parvovirus and COVID-19. Doctors and scientists are learning more about why the COVID-19 vaccine may cause this response in rare cases.
How common are myocarditis and pericarditis after the COVID-19 vaccine?
The chance of your child getting myocarditis or pericarditis following the COVID-19 vaccine is very low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actively tracking any cases of vaccine-related heart inflammation. As of July 6, 2021, there have been fewer than 1,000 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in people ages 30 and younger after vaccination. Given the millions of people vaccinated so far, these side effects are considered extremely rare.
It's also important to remember that myocarditis and pericarditis can be side effects of COVID-19 infection. In fact, research shows a young adult is more likely to develop heart inflammation from the COVID-19 virus than the vaccine. Heart inflammation caused by COVID-19 is usually more severe than inflammation caused by the vaccine.
"I understand the emotions and fears around this being a new vaccine. But when you look at the numbers, it's a lot safer to get vaccinated than to get COVID-19," Dr. Butts says.
What are signs and symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis?
Most cases of COVID-19 vaccine-related myocarditis and pericarditis have been found in male teenagers and young adults age 16 and older. Symptoms usually show up a few days after getting the vaccine and typically happen after the second dose.
Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis can include:
- Abnormal heart rhythms, such as a racing heartbeat or fluttering heart
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
If you're concerned about potential heart inflammation symptoms after the COVID-19 vaccine, call your pediatrician. If your child has severe chest pain, trouble breathing or feels like they are going to faint, go to the emergency room.
How is heart inflammation from the COVID-19 vaccine diagnosed and treated?
If your pediatrician suspects your child has myocarditis or pericarditis, they may have your child undergo some blood tests. These tests can check for specific markers that indicate heart inflammation. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a cardiologist for a second opinion or for further testing, such as a cardiac MRI.
Most cases of myocarditis and pericarditis linked to the COVID-19 vaccine are mild and can be treated with rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Young patients who have developed heart inflammation after the vaccine usually recover quickly and can return to daily activities once their symptoms improve.
"At this point, there are no reports of long-term side effects from myocarditis or pericarditis caused by the vaccine," Dr. Butts says. "Talk to your child's physician about follow-up checks and monitoring your child's recovery."
Should my child still get vaccinated for COVID-19?
Experts agree that the risks and side effects of COVID-19 far outweigh any risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. Children can and do get sick from COVID-19 and may be at risk for lingering health problems including multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
And with the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading, it's even more important to make sure your child is vaccinated if they are eligible.
"As a cardiologist and a parent, I strongly recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine," says Dr. Butts. "This includes for my patients who have decreased heart function, heart failure or a heart transplant, as well as for my own child."
Learn more about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine in children and teens. If you still have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, don't hesitate to reach out to your child's pediatrician with questions.
See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.
The Heart Center at Children's Health provides expert diagnosis and effective treatment for the full spectrum of pediatric heart conditions. Leaders in pediatric cardiac care, we're committed to achieving the best possible outcome for every child's heart. Learn more about our cardiology program and services.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.