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There is a risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, in young people from the vaccine. But it is rare, and symptoms of the condition are normally mild. The CDC and others say the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.
The CDC said the only confirmed fatalities related to the COVID-19 vaccines are nine deaths from a blood clot disorder tied to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Deaths and other adverse events reported to the government’s VAERS database do not mean they are confirmed to have been caused by the vaccine.
A Texas cardiologist recently made a claim about the risk of myocarditis in teens from the COVID-19 vaccine, citing a study that health experts raised doubts about in September. He also floated a debunked claim that 45,000 Americans have died from the vaccine.
Dr. Peter McCullough made the claims in an appearance on the "DarkHorse Podcast; an article about his appearance, from the website Conservative Fighters, carried the headline: "Top cardiologist: Study shows COVID vaccines are more dangerous than covid itself."
"The most shocking thing in the Hoag analysis was that a child ages 12-17 is more likely to be hospitalized with myocarditis than taking your chances with COVID and ever getting hospitalized with COVID," McCullough claimed.
The claim is not accurate. Public health experts say the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for teens.
McCullough was referring to a study by Dr. Tracy Hoag and others posted to MedRxiv, a site where researchers post preliminary versions of scientific papers before they are peer reviewed. PolitiFact found that several doctors and researchers pointed out flaws in that study’s methodology.
McCullough, president of the Cardio Renal Society of America and editor of the journal Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, is a frequent Fox News guest and has a talk radio show called "The McCullough Report" on the America Out Loud network. His biography on the network’s website says he is "among the world’s experts" on the virus.
However, McCullough has made several claims during the pandemic that have been debunked by fact-checkers, such as that healthy people under 50 don’t need the COVID-19 vaccine and that vaccines offered no protection against the delta variant.
Baylor Scott & White Health, the large Texas-based health system, cut ties with McCullough in February and got a temporary restraining order against him in September, accusing him of continuing to claim an affiliation with it in media interviews, a claim he denied, according to Medscape.
McCullough’s claim that teens are more at risk from the vaccine due to myocarditis is not accurate. Health officials acknowledge there is a risk of the heart disorder but say it’s rare and that cases are generally mild.
Hospitalizations of teens due to COVID-19 infection remain low, compared with other age groups, CDC data shows, but the risk of illness or death due to the virus is greater than the risk from myocarditis, health experts say.
Martha Sharan, a spokesperson for the CDC, said that cases of myocarditis after the COVID-19 vaccine are still being investigated.
"It shares some features with typical viral myocarditis in terms of the age and sex distribution, the presenting symptom of chest pain, and various lab values. However, myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccine has less occurrence of heart failure and has a milder acute clinical course," Sharan said.
She added that "short-term outcomes of myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccine are much better than those of typical viral myocarditis," and that studies of the long-term outcomes are continuing.
When the vaccines first started coming out, doctors were seeing a small number of males in the 15-to-24 age group with symptoms of myocarditis, including chest pain, low-grade fever, and some changes in MRIs and EKGs, said Dr. Stuart Berger, chief of cardiology in the Department of Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
"These were kids that got symptoms resolved over a very short period of time, probably 24 to 48 hours, so went home and were fine," Berger said.
Berger added that "the incidence of that was much, much, much smaller than myocarditis in the general population that is not related to COVID."
Berger said people, even children, are at much higher risk of getting sick or dying from COVID-19 itself or from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, which has been reported in many children who have had COVID-19.
His recommendation to his patients? Get the vaccine.
"It's a no-brainer, to put it simply. Don't get COVID if there's a way to avoid it," Berger said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also continues to recommend that children be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the rare risk of myocarditis. A spokesperson shared an article about a recent study from Denmark of 5 million residents that showed about 2 cases of myocarditis per 100,000 people after mRNA vaccines.
The CDC’s Sharan pointed to a weekly morbidity and mortality report from June that concluded the benefits of COVID vaccination "clearly outweighed the risks of myocarditis after vaccination."
The report showed that for males ages 12 to 29, there were between 39 and 47 cases of myocarditis expected per 1 million vaccine doses given. That compares with the prevention of 11,000 cases of COVID-19, 560 hospitalizations, 138 ICU admissions and six deaths per one million doses in that same age range.
Another CDC report narrows the data to males ages 12 through 17 and shows that for every 1 million vaccine doses, there were between 56 and 69 reports of myocarditis. However, it calculated that the COVID-19 vaccines prevented 5,700 cases, 215 hospitalizations, 71 ICU admissions and two deaths.
As far as children ages 5-11, who began receiving the Pfizer vaccine on Oct. 29, the CDC told Reuters on Dec. 16 that there were eight mild cases of myocarditis reported in that group after more than 7 million doses of the vaccine were administered.
According to CDC data, 771 children ages 18 and under have died of COVID in the U.S. and more than 32,000 people between the ages of 19 and 44 have died from the virus as of Dec. 15. Johns Hopkins data shows more than 800,000 Americans have died from the virus.
In the podcast, McCullough also cited data from the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to claim that 45,000 to 50,000 deaths had resulted from the COVID-19 vaccines. That’s not accurate.
PolitiFact rated a similar claim of 45,000 deaths from the vaccine as Pants on Fire in July, and fact checkers at USA Today and Snopes rated them False. That claim was also made by America’s Frontline Doctors in a lawsuit in July that sought to stop authorization of the vaccines. McCullough provided a sworn declaration in that lawsuit.
The 45,000 number came from an unidentified woman who didn’t share her method for calculating it, but based it on data from the VAERS, PolitiFact found.
The CDC said on its website that VAERS received 10,483 reports of death after vaccines through Dec. 13. It adds that the FDA requires any health provider to report deaths after vaccines to VAERS, but that it "does not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem."
The CDC’s search engine for VAERS requires that users read and acknowledge a disclaimer that says, among other things, "The number of reports alone cannot be interpreted or used to reach conclusions about the existence, severity, frequency, or rates of problems associated with vaccines." But anyone with a computer can search the data, download it, sort through the numbers and interpret them as they wish.
Sharan said there is no indication that COVID-19 vaccines are leading to fatalities, except for nine confirmed deaths related to blood-clot issues in people who received the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen.
"To date, CDC has not detected any unusual or unexpected patterns for deaths following immunization that would indicate that COVID vaccines are causing or contributing to deaths, outside of the nine confirmed deaths following the Janssen vaccine," Sharan wrote in an email.
Those nine deaths were from complications of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, she said, or a combination of blood clots and low platelet count. As a result, the CDC recommended on Dec. 16 that people get the Pfizer or Moderna shots instead of Johnson & Johnson’s.
We reached out to McCullough via email but he did not provide any evidence to support his claims.
McCullough claimed that teens are at greater risk of being hospitalized with myocarditis from the COVID-19 vaccine than because of COVID-19 itself.
There have been nine confirmed deaths related to the vaccine and those came from a rare blood clot disorder tied to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Post-vaccine deaths reported to VAERS do not mean they were caused by the vaccine.
There is a rare risk of myocarditis from the vaccines in children and teens, but the benefits of the vaccine vastly outweigh the risks, multiple health authorities say.
We rate this claim False.
AFP Fact Check, "US cardiologist makes false claims about Covid-19 vaccination," April 9, 2021
Factcheck.org, "Vaccines Remain Largely Effective Against Delta Variant, Counter to Claims From Fox News Guest," Aug. 23, 2021
The Independent, "Joe Rogan podcast hosts doctor known for pushing debunked claims about Covid-19," Dec. 16, 2021
Medscape, "Baylor Gets Restraining Order Against COVID Vaccine Skeptic Doc," Sept. 16, 2021
MedPage Today, "Lawsuit: Doc Using Old Baylor Affiliation While Dishing COVID Vax Falsehoods," Aug. 6, 2021
PolitiFact, "No evidence of 45,000 deaths from COVID-19 vaccines," July 22, 2021
CDC, "Myocarditis and Pericarditis After mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination," Nov. 12, 2021
CDC, "Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine After Reports of Myocarditis Among Vaccine Recipients: Update from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, June 2021," July 9, 2021 (See Table 2)
CDC, "About VAERS"
CDC, "COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in adolescents and young adults: Benefit-risk discussion," June 23, 2021
CDC, "CDC Endorses ACIP’s Updated COVID-19 Vaccine Recommendations," Dec. 16, 2021
Martha Sharan, CDC spokesperson, statement to PolitiFact, Dec. 17, 2021
CDC, "Provisional COVID-19 Deaths: Focus on Ages 0-18 Years," Dec. 15, 2021
CDC, "Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination," Dec. 16, 2021
PolitiFact interview with Dr. Stuart Berger, chief of cardiology in the Department of Pediatrics at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, on Dec. 17, 2021
American Academy of Pediatrics, "Health officials, AAP urge COVID-19 vaccination despite rare myocarditis cases"
American Academy of Pediatrics, "Denmark study confirms myocarditis risk low after COVID-19 vaccination," Dec. 16, 2021
BMJ, "SARS-CoV-2 vaccination and myocarditis or myopericarditis: population based cohort study," Dec. 16, 2021
Reuters, "Eight heart inflammation cases among young kids who got COVID-19 shot - U.S. CDC," Dec. 16, 2021
FDA, "Moderna COVID-19 vaccine"
Johns Hopkins University, "COVID-19 dashboard"
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