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Vivian Lam
By Vivian Lam February 15, 2022

Children are at far higher risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than from vaccines

If Your Time is short

  • A claim that a CDC report proves that COVID-19 vaccines are causing heart damage in children ages 5-11 takes the data out of context.

  • Relative to the total number of children who have been vaccinated, cases of myocarditis and other serious adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination are very rare.

  • Children are more likely to sustain heart damage and other health complications from COVID-19 infection, not vaccination.

Texas cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough recently claimed that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows COVID-19 vaccines are causing myocarditis in children. But he took the data out of context, making misleading assertions about vaccine safety that ignore the greater health risks COVID-19 infection poses to children.

The claims came in a video interview with InfoWars, a website known to publish false stories and conspiracy theories. The video was titled "Study Proves Children’s Hearts Destroyed By COVID Vaccine."

"The data were not good at all," McCullough said. "They ended up with 100 serious safety reports, 15% of which had an elevation in troponin. That means there's heart injury occurring in children below age 12. We previously didn't think this was possible. When we looked at myocarditis before COVID-19 vaccination you almost never saw it before puberty."

This interview was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook). Several of McCullough's claims about COVID-19, including myocarditis in teens and children, have been previously disproven as false or misleading. We reached out to McCullough but did not hear back before publication.

Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is rare in children. A June 2021 statement signed by multiple professional medical associations and federal health agencies states that myocarditis is an extremely rare side effect after vaccination, and those who do get myocarditis often recover quickly.

The FDA expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5-11 on Oct. 29, 2021. The CDC study McCullough references is a Dec. 31, 2021, report reviewing data from the agency's two vaccine safety surveillance programs, VAERS and v-safe. The 100 serious safety reports McCullough mentions is out of a total of 4,249 adverse events, meaning 97.6% of those safety reports weren't considered serious. While the 15 cases of elevated troponin levels make up 15% of serious adverse events, they amount to only 0.35% of total adverse events.

To put these numbers further into scale, those 4,249 reported adverse events are out of 8.7 million vaccine doses administered over that time period; fewer than one-thousandth of 1% of children who received the vaccine reported elevated troponin, a protein released into the blood during heart damage. Of the 11 children verified to have myocarditis, seven had recovered and the other four were recovering at the time of the report's publication.

The systemic reactions that McCullough also remarked on in his interview were all mild to moderately severe, the majority of which were fatigue and headache. These are common side effects of a vaccine, indicating that the immune system is responding and building protection against the virus. Of the approximately 4,500 to 4,600 children who reported having any health impact through the v-safe app, barely 1% required medical care.

A far greater risk factor for myocarditis, studies show, is COVID-19 itself. A September 2021 CDC report found that patients of all ages with COVID-19 have a 16 times greater risk of myocarditis compared with patients without COVID-19. And while COVID-19 is usually mild among children, some develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, where many different parts of the body, including the heart, become inflamed.

"While kids are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19, they can get COVID-19, they can transmit COVID-19 and they can die from COVID-19," said cardiologist Dr. Matthew Elias in an interview with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Even if they initially have no symptoms with infection, they can still develop MIS-C, which many families haven’t ever heard of."

"Children are much more likely to develop heart issues after COVID-19 infection than after the vaccine," said Elias. "When children develop myocarditis after COVID-19 infection, it’s typically much more severe than when it occurs post-vaccine."

The American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend COVID-19 vaccination for children over age five. Children are more likely to avoid heart complications from COVID-19 with vaccination than without.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

InfoWars, Doctor McCullough: Study Proves Children’s Hearts Destroyed By COVID Vaccine, Feb. 5. 2022

The Independent, Joe Rogan podcast hosts doctor known for pushing debunked claims about Covid-19, Dec. 16, 2021

PolitiFact, Benefits from COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh the risks for teens, Dec. 23, 2021

Full Fact, Evidence suggests myocarditis risk after Covid-19 vaccination is lower compared to Covid infection, Dec. 21, 2021

MedlinePlus, Myocarditis - pediatric, updated Feb. 4, 2022

Health and Human Services Department, Statement Following CDC ACIP Meeting from Nation’s Leading Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists and Public Health Leaders on Benefits of Vaccination, Jun. 23, 2021

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Children 5 through 11 Years of Age, Oct. 29, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccine Safety  Children Aged 5–11 Years — United States, November 3–December 19, 2021, Dec. 31, 2021

MedlinePlus, Troponin Test, updated Sep. 9, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Possible Side Effects After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine, updated Jan. 12, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Association Between COVID-19 and Myocarditis Using Hospital-Based Administrative Data — United States, March 2020–January 2021, Sep. 3, 2021

Mayo Clinic, Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and COVID-19, Nov. 12, 2021

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Myocarditis and COVID-19: Get the Facts, Dec. 14, 2021

American Heart Association, Questions About COVID-19 Vaccination, reviewed Jan. 12, 2022

American Academy of Pediatrics, Children and COVID-19 Vaccination Trends, updated Feb. 11, 2022

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Children are at far higher risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 infection than from vaccines

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