Rare cases of heart inflammation in young people after receiving their second dose of Covid vaccine require further investigation, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday.
However, the former Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration said the cases had been mostly mild and shouldn’t deter people from signing up for Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot therapies.
“At the present time, the risk benefit in this age group still speaks for the vaccination,” said Pfizer board member Gottlieb in an interview with the “Squawk Box”. “This has also been confirmed by the CDC and FDA.”
A day earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 16- to 24-year-olds had a higher than forecast number of cases of heart infections after their second Covid vaccination – 275 recorded incidents compared to expectations between 10 and 102.
A total of 475 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis have been reported in people under the age of 30, which, according to the CDC, is inflammation of the heart muscle or the lining around it. Men make up the vast majority of reported cases of myocarditis or pericarditis after vaccination.
Of the 270 people who developed the illness and were discharged from hospital, 81% made a full recovery, according to CDC data. The remaining 19% either still have symptoms or their status is unknown. There are still 15 people in the hospital, according to the CDC.
Symptoms, which include chest pain and shortness of breath, typically develop a few days after receiving the vaccine, according to the CDC.
Gottlieb said many questions remain about the link between heart inflammation and Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid vaccines.
“I think at this point you have to assume that there is a causal link between the vaccine and these observations until you can prove otherwise,” said Gottlieb, who headed the FDA in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019.
Gottlieb said what is not yet known is whether the vaccines that cause heart inflammation are special. “We know the vaccine causes an inflammatory response. That’s why you get a fever. That’s why you get pain at the injection site because it stimulates your immune system.”
“Is this a more generalized inflammatory response from the vaccine that localizes to the heart in some patients?” asked Gottlieb rhetorically. “Or is that something more direct, where the vaccine itself triggers a very targeted immune response and manifests itself that way? We don’t have the answers to those questions.”
It is possible that additional cases were not recorded, Gottlieb said, but “we are probably recording the most severe cases”. He added, “If you look at the number of people who have severe cases of pericarditis, these are very small numbers right now.”
According to CDC data, around 141.5 million people in the US are fully vaccinated against Covid. The vaccines have been instrumental in bringing the number of coronavirus cases in the United States to the lowest level since the pandemic began.