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Heart attacks afflict people regardless of vaccination status

December 18, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: Only people vaccinated against COVID-19 are having random heart attacks.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Both unvaccinated and vaccinated people suffer heart attacks, and research has not found any link between COVID-19 vaccines and a higher incidence of heart attacks, experts say.

THE FACTS: Widely shared posts on Twitter and Instagram this week baselessly suggested that unexplained heart attacks are limited to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Why aren’t unvaccinated people also getting random heart attacks?” read the posts, one of which amassed more than 10,000 shares.

But cardiologists say the premise of the claim — that only vaccinated people are suffering unexpected heart attacks — is false.

“They are occurring in patients who have had a vaccine, but they are certainly occurring in patients who have not had a vaccine as well,” said Dr. Jeffrey Berger, an associate professor of cardiology and surgery at NYU Langone Health. “I think the idea that people with a vaccine are at higher risk for having a heart attack is just not true and it is not seen in the data.”

Berger, whose research specializes in heart attacks that occur when traditional risk factors aren’t present, said he has observed unvaccinated patients as a part of this work.

Dr. Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association, agreed that heart attacks have been happening in both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

“We know because hospitals day in and day out since we understood what a heart attack was in the early 1940s and earlier have been treating heart attacks,” she said. The claim spreading online, she said, is “not true at all.”

Jessup said research that has searched for adverse outcomes associated with COVID-19 vaccination has not found a link between the vaccines and heart attacks.

For example, she said, an October 2021 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association surveilling more than 10 million vaccine-eligible individuals found no such association with the COVID-19 shots.

Heart attacks, referred to in the medical community as acute myocardial infarction, happen when there is a blood clot in the artery that supplies the heart muscle, damaging the heart, according to Jessup.

Risk factors can include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.

In rare cases, recipients of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have experienced myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. However, research shows the risk of developing myocarditis is consistently higher as a result of a viral infection such as COVID-19, which makes the case for vaccination, according to Dr. Ty Gluckman, medical director for the Center for Cardiovascular Analytics, Research and Data Science at the Providence Heart Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Viral infections — and specifically acute respiratory viral infections, such as the flu — can also increase the risk of heart attacks, according to Gluckman. That’s one reason doctors encourage vaccination against the flu, he said.

Recent research suggests the same could be true for COVID-19 infections. A September 2022 study from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai found that deaths from heart attacks have spiked during pandemic surges.

That research, Gluckman said, is one of many indications that it’s a good idea to get vaccinated.

“It would support the notion that we should be doing everything within our power to minimize significant illness as a result of COVID-19 where at all possible,” he said.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.