There is growing concern among some pediatricians about the latest covid booster shot. The reason: A rare side effect that causes inflammation of the heart, and early surveillance shows that it affects young, healthy children at a higher rate.
“I think it’s important that all patients and their families are aware of potential side effects,” says Jennifer Li, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Duke Health. She has seen young patients develop heart problems from covid and vaccinations.
Still, Li supports receiving the latest booster, “I personally think the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Li participated in a national study that collected data on those who contracted myocarditis or pericarditis from the vaccine. “Most of the people were male, in their late teens and usually got it after the second dose,” Li says of the study results.
WRAL Investigates found studies to support that, one that found a disproportionate number of myocarditis cases in men, especially among adolescents. Another went a step further, saying Moderna’s vaccines posed the greatest risk to young men.
“I think this is confusing for the general public,” says Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He has been a voting member of the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Committee since 2017.
When asked if he would give his children the bivalent vaccine, Offit was quick to reply: “No.”
Offit points to three groups who SHOULD get the boosters: the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with high-risk medical conditions.
“Healthy children do not need a booster dose, assuming they have received three doses of a vaccine to date or two doses and a natural infection,” Offit tells the families in his care.
That rings truer for parents of children, Offit says. “It is not yet clear why children, mainly after the second dose, mainly within 7 days of the second dose, are more likely to get myocarditis, but that is a fact.”
A fact Offit says parents should consider before signing their child up for a bivalent booster.
“I think if a vaccine is clearly a benefit, then it’s a risk worth taking, but if the vaccines are not clearly a benefit, then the risk, no matter how small or how transient or self-resolving. It’s still a risk.” it’s not worth taking,” he told WRAL Investigates.
Li’s research shows that most people with vaccine-induced myocarditis see symptoms resolve within days. However, full recovery for many can take months. That means no physical activity at all, which is a scary proposition for parents of youngsters who play sports.
In the big picture, though, Li thinks the risks of vaccine side effects are still better than getting covid. “The risks are very, very small and the benefits are much greater, so I recommend it,” she said. “If a child were to contract covid, their risk of contracting myocarditis is six times higher from contracting covid than from receiving a second dose of the vaccine.”
Offit isn’t so sure that’s the case for youngsters who’ve already received their starting doses, plus a booster, or a natural infection.
Both doctors agree that there is much more to learn about the long-term impacts of vaccine-associated myocarditis and why some people seem more susceptible to risk. There are currently several ongoing studies. WRAL Investigates is tracking them and will keep parents informed as more information emerges.