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CDC looks into rare heart issues after COVID-19 vaccination

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The CDC is planning an emergency meeting next week on rare cases of heart inflammation, mostly occurring in younger men, following COVID-19 vaccination. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero to discuss this plus concerns about a decline in routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: The CDC is holding an emergency meeting next week after reports of extremely rare heart inflammation following doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC says it has identified at least 226 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in people aged 30 and younger who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It is happening mostly in males.

CDC says the majority of patients with symptoms have recovered. For more on this I want to bring in Dr. William Schaffner. He's a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Dr. Schaffner, welcome. Always great to have you on the show. So explain to us what exactly is happening here in these cases, because it seems as if it's a temporary situation, correct, that most of these patients are then recovering from?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Yes, fortunately that's correct, Tanya. These are relatively speaking mild cases of inflammation of the muscle of the heart or the membrane that surrounds the heart. And over a period of time with treatment, people are getting better and able to get back to their normal lives. It's occurring at a rate among vaccinated people that's a bit higher than the expected rate in the general population.

And it also happens more frequently after the second dose. And as your lead-in segment said, it occurs more males than females. So a consideration but, remember, on the other side you have COVID itself. That virus can do the same thing at much higher rates and they persist longer. So the equation solves, in my view, very much in favor of the vaccine. My grandchildren have been vaxxed.

TANYA RIVERO: Right. And both of my children have been vaccinated, including my 12-year-old. So I'm totally on board. But doctor, what signs should people be looking out for, especially if you have someone in your family, a young male, who may have certain heart issues? Some young people have heart murmurs. Is there any pre-existing condition that might make someone more susceptible to this?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: So far, we don't think that there's any predisposing condition. But certainly if the younger person develops any kind of chest pain, shortness of breath, a sense of fatigue, even fever, those are the things that should bring them to medical attention right away.

TANYA RIVERO: And do doctors have any idea why it seems to be happening more in young men than than women?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Early days, Tanya. We haven't quite got the answer to that yet. But as they say, we're working on it.

TANYA RIVERO: We're looking into it. Right. And it's good to hear, though, that the concern is not huge because almost everyone has recovered from it. And like you said, the numbers are still small enough that the concern of getting COVID is more than the concern over this potential reaction.

So doctor, I want to switch topics for a moment now to routine vaccinations. The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling on parents to get their children up to date on their regularly scheduled vaccinations as they prepare to return to in-person learning in the fall. The CDC said those vaccination rates dropped during the pandemic and may raise the risk of other outbreaks when schools reopen. Are you concerned about that at all?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Oh, it's a matter of top of mind for pediatricians and all public health officials because, during the pandemic, of course, we kept everyone at home. They didn't go into see the doctor for their routine health care. And although they may have had telemedicine, it's not-- we haven't figured out how to vaccinate through the computer yet. You actually have to show up and roll up your sleeve.

So during this summer, as children prepare to go to school, parents, bring them to your pediatricians and family doctors. Let's get them caught up in their vaccinations. Because clearly, vaccinations diminished, but we've got plenty of time to catch everybody up again so that when they go to school, they'll all be well protected.

TANYA RIVERO: And where does the research now stand for vaccinating children from 6 months to 12 years? I know that the studies are ongoing, and they're looking at everything from dosage levels to whether you should have one or two doses of the vaccine. So it's a little bit more complicated, I understand, for that age group. But where does the research now stand?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, I'm so glad you're interested, as are many other parents. When can I get my younger children vaccinated? All those studies are currently underway, and we hope the results are in sometime in the fall. We'll see how quickly that happens, but probably not during the summer in time for preschool vaccinations. But nonetheless, once school is in place, sometime in the fall those data should start coming in.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. And doctor, finally, how concerned are you about the variant, which appears to have originated in India but is now found in the UK and throughout Europe? This variant that doctors say is more contagious and more deadly, how concerned are you about that variant making its way to the unvaccinated populations here in the US?

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: We still have many, many, far too many unvaccinated people in the United States, and they will provide the environment for this Delta variant to spread. So I would urge everybody to come out and get vaccinated because we can curb the spread of all these variants if we're all vaccinated. But if you have susceptible people out there, and this variant is already in this country, if it starts to rev up and starts to spread, it will spread among the unvaccinated, for sure.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. Well Dr. William Schaffner, thank you so much for joining us. We always appreciate your expertise.

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: My pleasure.