A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer; and Marion Guenther, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Immunizations, Office of the Chief Nursing Officer.
With the strong uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in BC (nearly 75 per cent of adults have now had at least one dose) COVID-19 cases are dropping and provincial public health measures are relaxing – just in time for summer!
We know that concerns sometimes arise that make people wonder if vaccines are safe. The recent reports of myocarditis and pericarditis provide a good example to let you know how the vaccine safety system works, ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective – and saving lives.
What are myocarditis and pericarditis?
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle and pericarditis is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. These sometimes occur with viral infections, including many people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain, or the feeling of a rapid or abnormal heart rhythm. Recently, these conditions have been found in a few people – mostly young men and youth – in the first week after receiving a mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) vaccine.
These cases have generally been mild and resolved on their own, however this is a good time to note that any time you have a symptom that is unexpected after receiving a vaccine (such as the ones listed above) you should seek health care. Reporting unexpected side effects is a way to help ensure vaccines are safe for you and others to use.
What are health officials doing about it?
In Canada there have been a small number of reports of myocarditis or pericarditis in people who have received a COVID mRNA vaccine but – so far at least – we have not seen higher rates than would occur in the population from other causes.
As part of the surveillance system that monitors new medicines, doctors have been asked to specifically look for myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination to make sure we are not missing any cases. Regional Health Authorities, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and other Canadian public health authorities monitor and evaluate each one of these reports. Heath Canada works with vaccine manufacturers and international regulators to review the collected information and take action if needed. In the case of myocarditis and the mRNA vaccines, no regulatory action has so far been taken, either in Canada or internationally. This is because a medical link has not been established and the cases are generally mild, resolving quickly on their own.
Safety of vaccines is also considered when making recommendations about the use of vaccines, whether or not regulatory action has been taken. Health organizations such as Health Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the BC Centre for Disease Control or the World Health Organization, carefully review a broad set of evidence from diverse sources around the globe, including reports of reactions after vaccines.
The Office of the Chief Medical Officer at the FNHA also examines evidence about the vaccines to consider the potential impact on Indigenous people in BC. We continue to strongly recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccines because the benefits far exceed the mild and temporary risks these vaccines may cause in a small number of people. The mRNA vaccines offer clear benefits in reducing hospitalizations and deaths as well as avoiding the long-term health effects the COVID-19 virus can cause. Additionally, we will update you if our recommendations change.
Should I be worried?
The best way to combat worry is to be well-informed. If you have concerns, seek reliable information – for example from the websites listed below or from a trusted primary healthcare provider. If you don't have a family doctor, contact the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day service. Connect with friends who have been vaccinated and ask them why they got the vaccine – they will often have had the same worry as you and have found an answer which helped them make a decision to get vaccinated.
Most importantly, remember that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective – and they are saving lives!
FNHA COVID-19 Vaccines FAQ
First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day Service
BC Centre for Disease Control
COVID-19: Vaccine safety and side effects
This video discusses myocarditis as it relates to receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine, and considerations related to the relative risks and benefits of vaccination compared with vulnerability to COVID-19.