SALT LAKE CITY — While recent reports that inflammation of the heart muscle may be a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine in some adolescents and young adults around the country are being reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's business as usual for Utah's vaccination program.
"I haven't heard any concern from the public regarding this," Rich Lakin, Utah Department of Health immunization director, told the Deseret News on Monday about the condition, known as myocarditis, reportedly occurring post-vaccination.
"We're vaccinating more 12- to 15-year-olds than any other state. So the demand is there. Last week, it was at about 4% for the country, we were at around 9% of that age group," Lakin said. Utah, which has the nation's youngest population, has now fully vaccinated 45.3% of residents 12 and older.
The news about the possible adverse effect doesn't mean parents should now wait to vaccinate their children, Lakin said. "They should continue vaccination. There hasn't been anything from CDC that says to stop vaccinating. They're looking into it. They don't know if this is caused by the vaccination."
The CDC's vaccine safety advisory committee said May 17 there have been reports of myocarditis occurring after vaccination, predominantly in adolescents and young adults. No specifics were given, but the number of cases to date were described as "relatively few."
Most cases appear to be mild, according to the committee, and more often follow the second and final dose of the vaccine, typically within four days, and are affecting more males than females. The rates of myocarditis reports after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination, the committee said, have not differed from the expected baseline rate.
"What you're watching is the safety system in action. At the beginning, we don't know what we're really seeing," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital. "We need to keep an open mind until we know more."
His advice for parents?
"The clear message is that we don't know if this is a real side effect yet. If it is, it's going to be very, very rare. The risks of COVID for young people are still much greater than side effects we even can speculate seeing from the vaccine so far."
Pavia said that if his adult children were still teenagers "and had an appointment tomorrow to get the vaccine, this would not give me any pause at all."
Myocarditis, Pavia said, is usually seen in the spring and summer, with two or three cases a month expected at Primary Children's Hospital. He declined to comment on whether any of the post-vaccination cases reported to the CDC occurred in Utah.
The clear message is that we don't know if this is a real side effect yet. If it is, it's going to be very, very rare. The risks of COVID for young people are still much greater than side effects we even can speculate seeing from the vaccine so far.
–Dr. Andrew Pavia
He said the cause commonly is a virus that circulates in the warmer months, but can also result from many other sources, including a reaction to the smallpox vaccine. Someone with myocarditis can experience chest pain, shortness of breath, coughs and fever, and is likely to recover without treatment.
Utahns 24 and younger account for more than a third of the state's nearly 405,000 coronavirus cases, but less than 17 of the 2,292 lives lost to the virus. Health experts have said vaccinating younger residents is key to controlling the deadly disease.
"They help slow the spread. When they're vaccinated, it helps protect the elderly. It helps protect the immunocompromised," who can still be vulnerable to the virus even after being vaccinated themselves, Lakin said. "These kids play a big role in the way it spreads."
Only the two-dose Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in the United States for those 16 and younger. In Utah, all residents at least 16 years old have been eligible to be vaccinated since mid-March, and shots to those as young as 12 became available earlier this month following CDC approval.
Lakin said shots are increasingly available from family doctors and pediatricians, as well as other long-standing locations including pharmacies, local health departments and mass vaccination sites, many of which are already winding down operations. He said adolescents and young adults are getting vaccinated at all of them.