Texas cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough recently claimed that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows COVID-19 vaccines are causing myocarditis in children. But he took the data out of context, making misleading assertions about vaccine safety that ignore the greater health risks COVID-19 infection poses to children.
“The data were not good at all,” McCullough said. “They ended up with 100 serious safety reports, 15% of which had an elevation in troponin. That means there’s heart injury occurring in children below age 12. We previously didn’t think this was possible. When we looked at myocarditis before COVID-19 vaccination you almost never saw it before puberty.”
This interview was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook). Several of McCullough’s claims about COVID-19, including myocarditis in teens and children, have been previously disproven as false or misleading. We reached out to McCullough but did not hear back before publication.
Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is rare in children. A June 2021 statement signed by multiple professional medical associations and federal health agencies states that myocarditis is an extremely rare side effect after vaccination, and those who do get myocarditis often recover quickly.
The FDA expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5-11 on Oct. 29, 2021. The CDC study McCullough references is a Dec. 31, 2021, report reviewing data from the agency’s two vaccine safety surveillance programs, VAERS and v-safe. The 100 serious safety reports McCullough mentions is out of a total of 4,249 adverse events, meaning 97.6% of those safety reports weren’t considered serious. While the 15 cases of elevated troponin levels make up 15% of serious adverse events, they amount to only 0.35% of total adverse events.
To put these numbers further into scale, those 4,249 reported adverse events are out of 8.7 million vaccine doses administered over that time period; fewer than one-thousandth of 1% of children who received the vaccine reported elevated troponin, a protein released into the blood during heart damage. Of the 11 children verified to have myocarditis, seven had recovered and the other four were recovering at the time of the report’s publication.
The systemic reactions that McCullough also remarked on in his interview were all mild to moderately severe, the majority of which were fatigue and headache. These are common side effects of a vaccine, indicating that the immune system is responding and building protection against the virus. Of the approximately 4,500 to 4,600 children who reported having any health impact through the v-safe app, barely 1% required medical care.
A far greater risk factor for myocarditis, studies show, is COVID-19 itself. A September 2021 CDC report found that patients of all ages with COVID-19 have a 16 times greater risk of myocarditis compared with patients without COVID-19. And while COVID-19 is usually mild among children, some develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, where many different parts of the body, including the heart, become inflamed.
“While kids are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19, they can get COVID-19, they can transmit COVID-19 and they can die from COVID-19,” said cardiologist Dr. Matthew Elias in an interview with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Even if they initially have no symptoms with infection, they can still develop MIS-C, which many families haven’t ever heard of.”
“Children are much more likely to develop heart issues after COVID-19 infection than after the vaccine,” said Elias. “When children develop myocarditis after COVID-19 infection, it’s typically much more severe than when it occurs post-vaccine.”
The American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend COVID-19 vaccination for children over age five. Children are more likely to avoid heart complications from COVID-19 with vaccination than without.
We rate this claim False.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.