Benefits of COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh possible risk of heart inflammation: Dr. Reimer

The protection you’ll get from being vaccinated against COVID-19 far outweighs the potential risk of heart inflammation that could be linked to the shots, the medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force said on Thursday.

Dr. Joss Reimer’s comments came one day after a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group said rare reports of heart inflammation in people given mRNA-based immunizations, like the ones from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, are likely linked to the jabs

The CDC has been investigating cases of heart inflammation — mainly in young men — for several months.

On Wednesday, the CDC’s working group said available data suggests a likely link between myocarditis — swelling in the heart — and mRNA vaccination in adolescents and young adults. But like Reimer, that group still said the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh any potential risks.

“I know when you hear about swelling of the heart, it can sound very scary,” Reimer said at a news conference.

But she added that 95 per cent of cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (swelling in the lining around the heart) reported in the U.S. after vaccination were mild, treatable with medication like Advil and resolved completely with no lasting symptoms. 

Myocarditis and similar conditions aren’t new, Reimer said. They can happen for many reasons, with one of the most common causes being viral infections.

In fact, the condition is far more common after getting COVID-19 than after getting the vaccine, she said.

And the number of cases identified is so small, it’s still not totally clear whether the condition is even linked to the vaccine, Reimer said.

So far, Canada is actually seeing fewer cases of myocarditis among vaccinated people than would be expected among the general population, she said.

WATCH | What we know about heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccines:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said Thursday she has heard concerns from parents about a potential link between COVID-19 vaccines and heart inflammation. Reimer said that link has not been definitively established and, if it were, the nearly all cases reported in the U.S. appear to be mild and resolve completely with no lasting symptoms. Reimer added Canada has not seen any increase in myocarditis cases following vaccines. 4:05

“So we really are talking about a different situation than when I had to talk to you in the past about blood clots [linked to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine],” she said.

“But all of that said, we take this seriously and we watch these things very carefully. This is again a great example of how good our surveillance systems are for vaccine safety, both in Canada and the U.S.”

Numbers in perspective

To put the latest data from the U.S. in perspective, Reimer explained what the same situation would look like applied to Manitoba’s population.

Based on those numbers, if the province gave two COVID-19 vaccine doses to every man in Manitoba age 18 to 24, it would result in three cases of myocarditis — all of which would be expected to be mild and resolve completely.

Those doses would also prevent 840 COVID-19 infections, plus 37 hospitalizations and nine intensive care admissions linked to the illness, Reimer said.

Applying the same data to girls and boys ages 12 to 17 in Manitoba would result in five cases of myocarditis — again, with all five expected to be mild and resolve completely with anti-inflammatory medication like Advil, she said.

Those vaccinations would also prevent 945 COVID-19 cases, and stop 26 hospitalizations and seven intensive care admissions from happening, Reimer said. 

“Doctors in the U.S. and in Canada still recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine, even for youth, because the risks of severe illness or even death from a COVID-19 infection are much higher and much more serious than the risks associated with myocarditis,” she said.

“It is better to get the protection from being vaccinated than to stay at risk of getting COVID-19.”

Reimer said people of any age, whether or not they’ve recently been vaccinated, should always seek medical attention if they experience sudden chest pain, unusual shortness of breath or a heartbeat that’s fluttering, fast or pounding.