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Is There a Link Between COVID Vaccines and Heart Inflammation in Teens?

A young woman in a blue tank top (her face is not visible) holding her hands on her chest over her heart.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into a small number of cases of heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis) in teenagers and young adults that occurred within days of receiving their second COVID vaccination dose.
  • About 10 cases of myocarditis occur for every 100,000 people in the general population.
  • It is not yet known if there is a correlation between COVID vaccination and an increased risk of myocarditis. However, getting sick with COVID-19 also puts you at risk for myocarditis and for lasting respiratory and heart problems, making vaccination all the more important.

A small number of teenagers and young adults have developed an inflammatory condition of the heart muscles (myocarditis) after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. No link has been established between the condition and vaccination, but the cases are being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The young adults (more males than females) developed symptoms of myocarditis within four days of receiving the second shot of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines—both of which are made with messenger RNA (mRNA).

For now, the CDC is urging healthcare professionals to look out for unusual heart symptoms in young people who have received any of the three COVID-19 vaccines that are approved in the United States. Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine is approved for use in children aged 12 and older in the U.S.

What Is Myocarditis?

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the muscles of the heart. The condition can be mild to severe and include symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, heart arrhythmias, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest. Myocarditis is usually caused by viral or bacterial infections.

Investigating Cases

In April, a few cases of myocarditis were reported in people in Israel who had recently received a COVID vaccine. In early May, the CDC alerted physicians in the U.S. that it was receiving reports of myocarditis in adults who had recently been vaccinated.

Leslie Cooper, MD

We don’t believe the risk of myocarditis is a contraindication to vaccination.

— Leslie Cooper, MD

The reports were evaluated by the Vaccine Safety Technical (VaST) Work Group. The VaST’s report stated that “within CDC safety monitoring systems, rates of myocarditis reports in the window following COVID-19 vaccination have not differed from expected baseline rates.”

Leslie Cooper, MD, the co-founder and medical director of the Myocarditis Foundation and chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, tells Verywell that most of the reported cases of myocarditis in teens who had recently been vaccinated were mild. The patients were treated with anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and a drug called colchicine, and most have recovered without any long-term health problems.

Reporting and Tracking Cases

Cooper says that the incidence of myocarditis in the general population is estimated to be around 10 cases per 100,000 persons, but it can be up to 20 per 100,000 people in some locations. He does not have data on the number of cases of myocarditis in teenagers yet.

In the U.S., an important tool for finding out about cases of adverse events after vaccination is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

VAERS is intended to detect unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse events that might indicate a safety problem with a vaccine. The caveat is that VAERS relies on people submitting reports of any adverse events that they experience after they get vaccinated. The fact that an adverse event happened after vaccination does not necessarily mean it was caused by the vaccine.

Cooper says that the number of cases of myocarditis in people of all ages being reported to VAERS is rising because more people are becoming aware of it. He estimates that overall, there could be around one case of myocarditis in every 100,000 vaccinations in all age groups—which is not that different from the baseline rate. However, Cooper adds that the rate in males between the ages of 18 and 25 appears to be a bit higher than the baseline rate.

Studies are underway on the potential risk of myocarditis for young people who have been vaccinated. Cooper cites one report of cases in the U.S. military, which has not been yet been published, which showed a rate of 14 cases of myocarditis in every 600,000 people vaccinated.

For now, Cooper says that experts "don’t believe the risk of myocarditis is a contraindication to vaccination."

Experts Want You To Get Vaccinated

The cases of myocarditis reported in people who recently got their COVID shot might be a situation in which two things are happening at the same time, but are not connected. Researchers refer to this as correlation versus causation.

Leslie Cooper, MD

This adverse event is not nearly as significant as the morbidity from the virus itself.

— Leslie Cooper, MD

Even if there is a connection between myocarditis and COVID-19 vaccines, Cooper stresses that getting vaccinated is still the wise thing to do.

“Yes, there is a small rate of cardiac injury, presumed to be myocarditis, in young people who received the mRNA vaccines, both Pfizer and Moderna,” says Cooper. “This adverse event is not nearly as significant as the morbidity from the virus itself.”

A COVID-19 infection can cause cardiovascular problems, including myocarditis, in people who were previously healthy. Additionally, lingering cardiovascular symptoms, like heart palpitations and heart arrhythmias, can occur after a COVID infection.

As vaccination opens up for younger people, including teens, experts do not want concerns about myocarditis to deter people from getting vaccinated.

In an email to Verywell, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that the “potentially rare side effect of myocarditis pales in comparison to the potential risks of COVID-19 infection.”

According to the AAP, nearly four million children in the U.S. have tested positive for the disease since the start of the pandemic. As such, the AAP recommends that people aged 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19.

What This Means For You

While a few cases of myocarditis have been reported in young adults who recently got their second dose of a COVID vaccine, it's not yet clear whether there is a connection between the inflammation and the vaccine itself. However, getting sick with COVID does increase your risk for complications that can affect your heart, making vaccination all the more important.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 VaST Work Group technical report – May 17, 2021. Published May 17, 2021.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Infectious Diseases. COVID-19 vaccines in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. Published online May 12, 2021. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-052336