The majority of kids ages 12-17 who receive the COVID-19 vaccine experience mild to no side effects, but cases of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, have been reported in a small percentage of teens and young adults.

Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Misty Carlson and her colleagues at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield have been monitoring the latest information, and she says this association to the vaccine should not deter families from choosing to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.

“So far, the cases in the literature, and the couple of cases we’ve seen here at RiverBend, have been mild,” Dr. Carlson says. “The patients did not experience any cardiac disfunction, no arrhythmias; all we treated them with was nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and they recovered.”

What is myocarditis?
Myocarditis is a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle and is most often caused by viral infections. Symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Palpitations or irregular heart rhythm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Swelling in the hands, legs, ankles and feet
  • A sudden loss of consciousness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the approximately 300 confirmed cases of myocarditis associated with COVID-19 vaccination:

  • Most have occurred in male adolescents and young adults ages 16 years or older.
  • They happened more often after getting the second dose of the vaccine.
  • The condition appeared typically within several days after vaccination.

The CDC says the cases of myocarditis linked to the vaccine are rare, given the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered, and do not change its recommendation that all people 12 and older should be vaccinated. The CDC and its partners are actively monitoring all reports, by reviewing data and medical records, to learn more about the relationship to COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccine: risks vs. benefits
While there is a slightly increased risk of myocarditis associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says children who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk from COVID-19 infection.

“We know that coronavirus itself sometimes causes very serious inflammation of the heart muscle. This has been part of multisystem inflammatory syndrome that has killed kids. Also, myocarditis has been part of what’s known as long haulers COVID,” she says. “Some patients can experience health problems that can last weeks or months after a coronavirus infection, even if their initial symptoms from the virus were mild.”

Myocarditis should not be taken lightly; however, the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks of coronavirus infection, and Dr. Carlson and Dr. Bradshaw agree that parents should not hesitate to vaccinate their children.

“Now that we know there is this potential risk associated with the vaccine, we can identify it quickly, we have a good treatment, and what we’re seeing are mild cases,” Dr. Carlson says. “We definitely know what the effects of COVID are on people who aren’t vaccinated, so I think when you do that risk/benefits analysis, it really points to a benefit with the vaccine, even with this potential small risk.”