Myocarditis and pericarditis: Weighing the risks of these rare side effects

You may have heard about the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis after some COVID-19 vaccines. Understanding that the risk is extremely small and knowing what to watch out for after vaccination may help you decide what’s the best choice for you or your child.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is an inflammation of the lining around the heart. There have been a very small number of these cases noted after vaccination with the mRNA vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

As of June 21, 2021, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) had received 616 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis among people ages 30 and younger who received a COVID-19 vaccine. Most cases occurred in male adolescents and young adults who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Through follow-up, including medical record reviews, CDC and FDA confirmed 393 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis. In contrast, 179,261,269 people had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. as of June 27.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met last week to discuss the latest data on reports of these side effects and determined  that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination clearly outweigh the risks.

After the ACIP meeting a group of the nation’s leading doctors, nurses and public health leaders including the CDC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Heart Association, and the American Nurses Association (ANA), issued a statement on the benefits of vaccination:

“The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination. Importantly, for the young people who do, most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe.’

The statement concludes, “We recommend getting vaccinated right away if you haven’t yet. It is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, your community, and to return to a more normal lifestyle safely and quickly.”

After vaccination you can keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

Seek medical care if you think you or your child have any of these symptoms within a week after COVID-19 vaccination. If you have concerns about COVID-19 vaccination, talk with your or your child’s health care provider.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and myocarditis.