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What we know about COVID vaccines and ‘extremely rare’ heart problems

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here has been no public announcement about what caused Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest after a tackle during a “Monday Night Football” game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 2 — but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating.

One unfounded claim making the rounds on social media is that the 24-year-old’s medical emergency was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. This assertion isn’t based on facts, and heart problems after vaccination have been reported in only a very small number of cases.

What we know about COVID vaccines and heart problems

Dr. Phillip Yang, a cardiologist at Stanford Health Care in California, told Yahoo News that heart problems following COVID vaccination are “theoretically possible but extremely rare.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is monitoring reports of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, an inflammation of the outer lining of the heart, after someone has received the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine. Symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis may include chest pain, shortness of breath or “feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart,” and cases after vaccination have most often been reported in adolescents and young adult males within a week of the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. While the severity of myocarditis and pericarditis cases can vary, most patients with reported cases who received care “responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly.”

But experts stress that myocarditis or pericarditis after vaccination is very uncommon. The CDC said in September that of the more than 123 million people who had received COVID shots, it had verified 131 cases of myocarditis. And data published by the CDC in 2021 found just 12.6 cases per million second doses administered.

Myocarditis and pericarditis are usually triggered by a viral infection. In fact, Yang and others say, you’re more likely to experience heart problems after contracting the coronavirus than after getting vaccinated — though Yang emphasized that heart problems related to the coronavirus are also very rare.

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