Ex-CDC Head: Heart Infection in Vaccinated Teens May Be Coincidence

Ex-CDC Head: Heart Infection in Vaccinated Teens May Be Coincidence teenage boy gets coronavirus shot Simon Huizar, 13, receives a first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on May 14, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 24 May 2021 09:58 AM

The fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating cases of rare heart inflammation in a small number of vaccinated teens and young adults shows its safety systems are working, but even if it does turn out that there is a connection with the vaccine, becoming ill with COVID-19 is "much more serious," than the chance of the rare infection, former acting CDC Director Richard Besser said Monday.

"I would recommend that parents go ahead and get their kids vaccinated," Besser, who served in the Obama administration and is now the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told NBC News' "Today." "We know that COVID infection itself can be very serious and that we've lost hundreds of children and thousands have been hospitalized."

He added that there were 600,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15 vaccinated last week alone, "which is terrific and "a sign that our children, or at least children older than 12, will soon have the same protection that so many adults have."

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization practices, in a statement earlier this month, said it was investigating reports that a few teenagers and young adults, mostly male, had developed myocarditis, an inflammation that often goes away without complications and that can be caused by a variety of viruses.

The monitoring systems didn't find more cases than would normally be expected among that population, but the committee said healthcare providers would be made aware of the reports.

Besser pointed out that the CDC wants to be sure that the inflammation didn't come as a coincidence, and that the announcement and investigation means the system is working as it should.

"There is an independent advisory committee that is monitoring safety data every week, looking for any potential signal that there could be a safety issue from the vaccines," said Besser. "This is, unfortunately, a condition that you can see in children and in adults. So far, they're saying no, there aren't more cases than we would expect, but we want to make sure there aren't some out there we've missed. We want to make sure there is no connection."

One of the challenges with a new medication or vaccine is telling the difference between if an illness is caused by the new treatment, or if it is something that can be normally expected to be seen.

"There are a lot of different viruses that can cause myocarditis," he said. "As the warm weather comes, that's when we tend to see those viruses. There are also drugs and other inflammatory conditions that could do this."

Some of the cases, though, came in a certain time frame after the vaccines, "and they want to make sure that isn't just coincidence," said Besser, a pediatrician.