Doctor on rare cases of heart inflammation following COVID-19 vaccines

The CDC will hold an emergency meeting next to discuss reports of rare cases of heart inflammation in some young people who received a coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Bob Lahita joined CBSN to discuss that, plus Moderna seeking to offer its vaccine for adolescents and concerns about kids missing routine vaccinations during the pandemic.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: The CDC will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss reports of heart inflammation in some young people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. The agency confirmed at least 226 cases of the rare side effect in people age 30 and younger after they received a Pfizer or Moderna shot. The majority of cases appear to be in men.

So for more on this, let's bring in Dr. Bob Lahita. He's the director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Diseases at St. Joseph Health. Thanks for joining us again on this Friday, Dr. Bob. These are preliminary reports, but what do they tell us so far about the rare side effects, who's most likely to be affected? And what could this mean for the future of vaccine trials in children?

BOB LAHITA: Well, I think that we have to be cognizant of the fact that most of these myocarditis-- and there's a muscle around the heart, the heart is basically myocardial muscle. And that muscle gets inflamed, as well as the lining of the heart, which is called the pericardium, and we get pericarditis. These kinds of cases occur sporadically in people that don't get vaccinated or don't have COVID.

So there are 226 cases right now. 41 of them ongoing, 15 of these young men-- mostly men, I think all of them are men below the age of 18-- are in the hospital. Three of them are in the intensive care unit. Of 130 million people vaccinated, you are seeing these inflammatory signs that occur in the chest. And it is transient, it comes and it goes very quickly, within three days in most young people who get this symptom.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Meanwhile, Moderna, Dr. Bob, has requested emergency authorization from the FDA for use of its vaccine in 12 to 17-year-olds. What do studies show about the efficacy of shots in teens? And how critical is it that people and adults, parents, bring their children to get the vaccine?

BOB LAHITA: Well, Vlad, that's a multipart question. And let me respond by saying that it's essential to have young people immunized because of the variants. Now, the vaccines that we know that are here in the US are extremely efficacious against protecting us from the variants-- South African, Brazillian, and the British variant.

There's this new Delta variant that comes out of India-- very transmissible, very infectious. We're not so sure about our vaccine coverage there. But we do know that if that variant is in the US, it is likely to infect all of us, and perhaps, young people-- those young people who are not vaccinated who can transmit that variant to adults who are not vaccinated.

Now, the young person is probably not going to get very sick, because as we know, the coronavirus doesn't have much of an effect on young people as a rule. But we're worried about the transmissibility of a variant like the Delta variant. So it's important to immunize your youngster and protect them. Because there's this rare instance, Vlad, of a young person getting very, very sick with multi-system inflammatory syndrome, for example.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Another CDC report shows that many children are still behind on routine vaccinations following a steep decline last year. Now, a lot of people-- not just kids, but a lot of people kind of avoided going to the doctor during the height of the pandemic. And so some of those checkups, routine vaccinations, they kind of fell by the wayside. Are you concerned about the drop in vaccinations for kids?

BOB LAHITA: Yes. The Blue Cross Blue Cross Blue Shield study showed that 40% of children out there missed their shots. And this is called well-child checkups. Now, I'm not a pediatrician, but I do know that-- and you know that children have to be vaccinated against things like measles and diphtheria and tetanus, and pertussis, which is whooping cough.

These things are important across all age groups. Now, understandably, parents have kept their kids away from their doctors and vaccination centers during the pandemic for fear that the child might get coronavirus or that they might get coronavirus. But this has resulted in a decrease in the normal childhood shots, and could complicate things when kids go back to school in the fall.

Measles is very deadly among children, unlike the coronavirus. Measles can really-- it's very infective. It can go through an entire classroom in a couple of hours. And the kids can get very sick, and of course, some of them can get very, very sick with pneumonia and even die. So this is what our concern is.

We need to have kids vaccinated now. If you're planning to send your child back to school, or even if you're not planning to send your child back to school, they should have their shots, as planned.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: The CDC, Dr. Bob, has made a change to its transit mask policy, where fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks.

BOB LAHITA: Yeah, that's very interesting. Outdoors, you do not have to wear masks. So if you're on a ferry boat or you're in that second deck of that tour bus where you're outside or you're in a trolley outdoors, you don't have to wear a mask.

But if you're in an airplane and you're in a bus, inside the bus or other conveyance like a train, you need to wear a mask. And that is logical and common sense. If you're indoors, you still need to wear the mask.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: OK, we've got to--


BOB LAHITA: --with other people.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: --planes and trains What about boats. Two passengers on a Royal Caribbean Celebrity cruise tested positive for the coronavirus so the ship was only allowing fully vaccinated people on board. So can you explain how we can get two passengers that tested positive?

BOB LAHITA: That Anne-Marie-- I saw that report and that really blew my mind. Because I cannot understand how that happened, but I've heard it happened now on two cruise ships. The two people that were positive were on this ship. They had to be vaccinated before they got on and they had to have a negative test 72 hours before they got on the ship.

And yet, despite all of that, two people were positive, at least on the one cruise ship that's been reported. Out of 600 passengers and 650 crew, two people positive despite all of the precautions that were taken. I cannot explain that, and I'm sure there will be a logical answer coming out of the cruise company shortly.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Yeah, you know, I think it's just proof that we continue to learn about this virus. There's an awful lot that we have learned over the past year plus, some things we don't. Which is why, you know, the CDC has been moving forward, but moving forward slowly in terms of lifting restrictions.

As we get more information, than we can offer more freedoms to people. It just kind of reinforces that point. Dr. Bob Lahita, thank you so much.

BOB LAHITA: Thank you.