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COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe for Heart Disease Patients

Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach, Florida, have heard from some of our heart patients who have heart disease or are at risk for it that they are concerned about the COVID-19 vaccines.

There’s no need to worry. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a statement encouraging people with cardiovascular risk factors, heart disease, or a history of heart attack or stroke to vaccinate “as soon as possible.”

What the experts are saying about heart disease patients

“People with heart disease or stroke—or for that matter, risk factors for heart disease and stroke—are at much greater risk from the virus than they are from the vaccine,” said Dr. Mitchell Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

Elkind acknowledged that the vaccines have side effects. He also stated that the risk of a complication was exceedingly small.

“The most likely thing that will occur is a sore arm,” he said in the statement. “I can tell you, I got the vaccine, the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. And my arm hurt for a few days like somebody had punched me there. But I was still able to use my arm and lift it, and that was it.”

Likewise, the American College of Cardiology issued a health policy statement providing guidance on who should receive vaccine priority. One group it recommended should be high on the list are those with cardiovascular disease (CVD) or those who are at elevated risk.

“Numerous multinational studies have demonstrated that CVD and its related risk factors are associated with high morbidity and mortality in patients with COVID-19 infection,” the statement said, urging that such factors be considered when allocating vaccines.

Reassuring studies

Although no large vaccine studies have looked specifically at those with CVD, all the vaccine trials included such individuals. The trials also included people with rheumatic diseases, hepatitis C, and HIV. All found that the vaccine was safe and effective for these groups.

One study in Israel that included nearly 600,000 people found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine used there was 94% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. About 7% of that cohort included those who already had some form of heart disease.

Doctors reassured they will find no increased side effects or dangers in vaccinating heart patients. This reassurance is due to older people having priority worldwide and because CVD is more prevalent in that age group.

Those who are on blood-thinning medications also have no cause for concern, Elkind said.

“The needle is small. To avoid bruising, people on blood thinners should press [the injection site] firmly for a minute or so, just like after getting blood drawn.”

Not risk-free

In addition to a sore arm, the AHA, among others, notes that mild side effects from vaccinations are common, including headache, tiredness, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. These typically subside within a day or so. Such reactions are a good thing. They are a sign that the immune system is learning the lesson we want the vaccines to teach it. It’s learning how to recognize and react to the virus.

And there is emerging evidence that women tend to experience worse side effects than men after receiving the vaccine. Earlier this month, the CDC released results of a study that looked at the first 13.7 million people who received the vaccine.

Of those who reported side effects, 79.1% were women. However, women made up only 61.2% of those who received a vaccine. The CDC didn’t say why women would have a stronger reaction. However, the findings are consistent with reactions to other vaccinations, including the seasonal flu vaccine and others.

There have also been very rare allergic (anaphylactic) reactions that can occur within minutes of receiving the injection. This is why monitoring occurs for 10-15 minutes afterward. If such a reaction occurs, it can be dealt with immediately.

“This is still a rare outcome,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a media briefing. “Right now, the known and potential benefits of the current COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks of getting COVID-19.”

Still, if you have a history of severe allergic reactions we recommend that you check with us before being vaccinated. If you have heart disease and still have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines, feel free to contact us to discuss further with you.

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