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CDC Panel Says Heart Inflammation In Young People Post-Vaccine Is Rare


Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met today to discuss some side effects associated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In some young people, the shots appear to be causing some temporary inflammation in the heart. NPR's Pien Huang joins us now to talk about this. And we've been hearing reports about these heart issues in young people who have gotten COVID vaccines, but are there more details that you were able to learn today?

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely. So far, there have been 323 confirmed cases of people developing these conditions called myocarditis and pericarditis linked to getting the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccines. So far, it hasn't been seen to the same degree with the Johnson & Johnson one. And the conditions appear to be a rare immune reaction to the vaccine, where somebody develops inflammation to the heart, either the muscle itself or the lining around it. It seems to happen more in young people. There have been some cases in young women, but most of the cases reported so far have also been in teen boys and men under 30. It tends to happen a few days to a week after someone gets the second dose of the vaccine. And based on the confirmed cases so far, about 13 young people are developing this out of every million doses given out.

CORNISH: In terms of this heart inflammation, how serious are these cases?

HUANG: Well, it's definitely no joke, but it does appear to be a condition that people fully recover from. Patients have been hospitalized for it, but they tend to get better in a matter of days, just getting treated with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Now, because it's a heart condition, some doctors might ask them not to do sports for three to six months after, just to make sure they're totally healed. But nobody has died from it. And health experts pointed out to me that this vaccine-associated condition is rare, it's temporary, and it's also much milder than the issues that can come with getting COVID. You know, more than 4,000 young people with COVID have developed a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is a very dangerous condition that can lead to long hospital stays or even death. And even those who get mild COVID can end up with long-term breathing and heart issues. Here's how Dr. Brian Feingold - he's a cardiologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh - puts it.

BRIAN FEINGOLD: There's risk to things we do in life. And if you're just going to play the odds and you want to be the safest and you're statistically going to go after what's the safest, it seems like the data right now stacks up that the vaccines are absolutely the safer route.

HUANG: He used that risk assessment on his own family. And his kids, who are aged 12 and 16, are now both vaccinated.

CORNISH: So that's one doctor, but given this issue, what are health authorities who deal with the vaccine - what are they recommending?

HUANG: Well, the CDC says that the benefits of the vaccine, both to individuals and to society at large, currently outweigh the risks of a few people developing this temporary heart condition. But Dr. Doran Fink, a representative from the Food and Drug Administration, did say that the agency plans to update the vaccine fact sheets with some warnings about these heart conditions.

DORAN FINK: And based on limited follow-up, most cases appear to have been associated with resolution of symptoms - that symptoms suggestive of myocarditis or pericarditis should result in vaccine recipients seeking medical attention.

HUANG: Those most common symptoms have been chest pain and difficulty breathing. So if someone develops those symptoms, health experts say they should call their doctor right away or go to the ER, where we'll run some blood tests and do some imaging on your heart to see what's wrong. The CDC is still recommending that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated, including those with a history of heart issues. They're saying, just check in with your doctor and make sure any symptoms you have are resolved before getting a shot.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pien Huang.

Thank you for your reporting.

HUANG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.
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