OHA study finds no link between COVID-19 vaccine and cardiac deaths

Kerry Gillette, a physician assistant with Mosaic Medical, fills syringes with the Moderna vaccine during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bethlehem Inn in Bend on Feb. 19, 2021.

During the pandemic, reports linked the COVID-19 vaccine to cardiac deaths, especially among young people, but a new study by the Oregon Health Authority found no connection between the two.

The study, published Thursday, April 11, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined nearly 1,300 deaths among Oregon adolescents and young people — ages 16 to 30 — during a 19-month period in 2021 and 2022. The study found no one died within the first 100 days of receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which teaches the body how to replicate a part of the virus as a way of getting the immune system to fight it.

Oregon Health Authority researchers embarked on the study to answer lingering questions that first emerged in early 2021 as public health officials made the vaccines available to rein in the pandemic. There are rare cases of myocarditis — a mild inflammation of the heart muscle — among young people, especially males 16 and 17 years of age. But that side effect morphed into rumors that young people receiving the vaccine would suddenly die from heart attacks.

Misinformation on social media and conspiracy theories spread rapidly about the vaccinations, some of it spurred after Damar Hamlin, a Buffalo Bills football player, experienced a heart attack during a game in 2023.

The stories prompted Dr. Paul Cieslak, the authority’s medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations, to wonder whether there was a link. Cieslak and study co-author Dr. Juventila Liko of OHA’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section set out to answer that question by looking at mortality data and COVID-19 immunizations.

They studied the death certificates of nearly 1,300 people 16 to 30 years old who died from June 2021 to December 2022. They also looked at whether the deaths occurred within 100 days of receiving a vaccine dose. That’s significant because usually the side effects from a vaccine will emerge within six weeks.

They found no cases that could be linked to a COVID shot. Forty of the deaths were among people who had received a dose, but only three people had been vaccinated less than 100 days prior to their death.

Of the three, two of them had an underlying health condition that explained the cardiac arrest. The third person’s death was the one case that had no explanation and researchers couldn’t say what caused it.

But 30 young people in the group of nearly 1,300 had COVID-19 listed as the cause of death.

“Finding 30 deaths just kind of underscores that people in this age group can die of COVID-19,” Cieslak told the Capital Chronicle. “We couldn’t find any evidence that vaccination against it was killing them.”

Among 30 people who died, researchers are only aware of three who received COVID-19 vaccinations. Eight others have no record in the state’s immunizations database.

During the same time period as the study’s data, nearly a million people in that age group have received a COVID-19 vaccination.

The CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone aged 6 months and older to prevent severe disease and even death. Older people and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk and should stay current on the shots, having the most current dose at least four months after the previous one.

The latest vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax were made to fight the current virus, which keeps changing.

This story was originally published by the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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