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Social media claim misleads on risk of myocarditis
If Your Time is short
• The risk of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, from COVID-19 vaccines is small and symptoms are normally mild. But contracting COVID-19 is “a strong and significant risk factor for myocarditis,” especially among children under 16 years old, according to the CDC.
• Professional medical groups and federal public health agencies have said the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risks.
A social media post that says heart inflammation in young people in the U.S. skyrocketed in 2021 is missing context and misleading.
The claim is written in marker on a T-shirt pictured in a Jan. 22 post on Facebook. The shirt says in the U.S., myocarditis cases among those ages 12 to 20 numbered four in 2019; four in 2020; and 2,236 in 2021.
"I cannot tell my kids I did nothing!" is written on top of the numbers.
The post 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.)
The numbers in the Facebook post appear to be loosely based on data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, the federal database that has become a breeding ground for misinformation.
The VAERS data does reflect an increased number of reports of myocarditis among young people after COVID-19 vaccination — and the post’s estimate of annual myocarditis report numbers is not far off the mark. In 2019, there were 16 reports after all types of vaccination; in 2020 there were nine reports; and in 2021, there were 2,301, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson.
But the raw report numbers do not tell the entire story. For starters, VAERS is an open system where anyone can submit a report, and the reports are not verified.
"VAERS does not determine if the vaccine caused the adverse reaction," the CDC spokesperson said. "Increased awareness of VAERS and mandatory reporting of adverse reactions by healthcare providers has contributed to the huge number of reports VAERS is receiving after COVID vaccination."
But even knowing that the data comes from VAERS, the claim still misses this important context: The risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 vaccines is small and symptoms are normally mild. And contracting COVID-19 is "a strong and significant risk factor for myocarditis," especially among children under 16 years old, according to the CDC.
Professional medical groups and federal public health agencies have said the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.
There is a small but increased risk for myocarditis after receiving COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk is highest after the second dose in adolescent males and young men.
The CDC told Reuters that of the myocarditis or pericarditis VAERS reports it received through Nov. 11, 2021, 1,969 reports concerned people aged 30 and younger who received COVID-19 vaccines.
That is only where the process of determining a link begins, not where it ends. "The CDC and FDA investigated the reports and, through interviews with medical providers and medical record reviews, confirmed 1,005 cases met the criteria for myocarditis, pericarditis, or myopericarditis," according to Reuters.
The CDC also has said that for males ages 12 through 17, for every 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered through June 11, 2021, there were between 56 and 69 reports of myocarditis.
"The facts are clear: this is an extremely rare side effect, and only an exceedingly small number of people will experience it after vaccination," according to a June 23 statement co-signed by more than a dozen major medical professional associations, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The statement continues, "Most cases are mild, and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. In addition, we know that myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common if you get COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe."
For children under 16, the risk of myocarditis is 37 times higher for those who contract COVID-19 compared with those who do not have the virus, according to a CDC study. That’s in keeping with what experts know: that viral infection is the most common cause of myocarditis in children.
A Facebook post says in the U.S., myocarditis cases among ages 12 to 20 numbered four in 2019; four in 2020; and 2,236 in 2021.
The post’s numbers are not far off: In 2019, there were 16 reports after all types of vaccinations; in 2020 there were nine reports; and in 2021, there were 2,301.
Of the reports among people under 30 who had received COVID-19 vaccines, 1,005 met the criteria for myocarditis, pericarditis, or myopericarditis.
The VAERS data does reflect an increase in reports of myocarditis among young people, and there is a small but increased risk for myocarditis after receiving COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. However, the risk of myocarditis is small, symptoms are normally mild and professional medical groups and federal public health agencies have said the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. What’s more, myocarditis is more common following a COVID-19 infection.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
American Academy of Pediatrics, "Study: Myocarditis risk 37 times higher for children with COVID-19 than uninfected peers," Aug. 31, 2021
American Heart Association, "Viruses are the most common cause of myocarditis in children, experts offer guidance," July 7, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Association Between COVID-19 and Myocarditis Using Hospital-Based Administrative Data — United States, March 2020–January 2021," Sept. 3, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in adolescents and young adults: Benefit-risk discussion," June 23, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, email interview, spokesperson, Jan. 26, 2022
Facebook post, Jan. 22, 2022
HHS.gov, "Statement Following CDC ACIP Meeting from Nation’s Leading Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists and Public Health Leaders on Benefits of Vaccination," June 23, 2021
JAMA, "Myocarditis Cases Reported After mRNA-Based COVID-19 Vaccination in the US From December 2020 to August 2021," Jan. 25, 2022
PolitiFact, "Benefits from COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh the risks for teens," Nov. 23, 2021
PolitiFact, "Federal VAERS database is a critical tool for researchers, but a breeding ground for misinformation," May 3, 2021
Reuters, "Fact Check-Graph showing increase in myo/pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccine rollout does not confirm link," Nov. 20, 2021
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Social media claim misleads on risk of myocarditis
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