Second ‘probable’ death from Covid-19 vaccine in NZ – Expert Reaction

A 26-year-old man who died after his Covid-19 vaccine suffered myocarditis, a rare side effect of the jab, according to preliminary information.

The Covid-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board said the heart inflammation condition is treatable, and people should be made aware of its symptoms at the time of vaccination. These symptoms include chest pain, tightness or discomfort, shortness of breath or abnormal heartbeat – and potentially fever. The Board says the benefits of vaccination for COVID-19 continue to greatly outweigh the risk of such rare side effects.

The SMC is highlighting previous comments on myocarditis, and asked experts to comment on the latest death. 

Professor Graham Le Gros, Immunologist, Director Malaghan Institute of Medical Research; and Programme Director Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo, comments:

“This is a terrible tragedy, which alerts people – particularly males under 30 – to be aware that if they’re not feeling well after the vaccine, to go see a doctor and get some medication that can dampen down the myocarditis.

“We know there is significant risk of myocarditis occurring following infection with the COVID-19 virus in some patients. There is a very much smaller risk of people developing myocarditis following a vaccine.

“This kind of heart problem is associated with many types of virus infections. I used to diagnose and look for viruses in people who had died a sudden cardiac death, and trust me, the COVID-19 infection carries a definite risk.

“That’s why I want the vaccine out there to stop a far higher number of virus-related myocarditis events, which we’ll get if we allow the virus to run rampant in the community.”

Conflict of interest statement: Professor Le Gros is Programme Director of the Government-funded Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo, a partnership between the Malaghan Institute, the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington.

Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris, Vaccinologist, University of Auckland, comments:

NOTE: These comments were originally published on 30 August 2021 on Dr Petousis-Harris’ blog. Here she has updated some information from the original post.

“After hundreds of millions of doses globally, the most rare side effects have revealed themselves. The one of concern involves inflammation of the heart.

“What is myocarditis? Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle; pericarditis is inflammation of the sac around the heart. Each year NZ has around 100 cases of myocarditis. A key trigger is a viral infection, including COVID-19. Symptoms include an abnormal heartbeat, new chest pain, and difficulty breathing. The condition can be severe and life threatening. Most cases will be admitted to hospital.

“Myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA vaccines:
Q.  Is this a thing?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Should I be worried?
A.  Not unduly, this is very rare, and the vaccine-related cases have mainly been mild recover with little to no treatment. You are much more likely to get myocarditis if you get COVID-19 and it is likely to be more severe. In fact, being seriously injured in a road traffic accident is about 100 times more likely, so while you should be forewarned, you should not lose sleep over it either.

“Since rolling out the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) a rare safety signal has been identified. A few months ago, safety systems alerted us to an unexpected number of cases of myocarditis as well as pericarditis. After extensive investigations we know the following:

“Myocarditis cases are typically occurring in males under 30-years of age within days of receipt of the second dose. In these cases, the course of disease in generally mild and resolved with rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Long term follow-up of cases is ongoing. When hospitalised the mean stay is 1-day compared with 6-days for covid infection in the younger age group.

“Summaries from the United States and Europe are available here.

“The benefits of receiving the Pfizer vaccine in these younger age groups far outweigh the risks associated with it. While NZ has very little COVID-19 in the community at the moment, once we ease the restrictions further and open the borders then community transmission of this infection is inevitable.

“Perspective: Each year we give infants a vaccine against rotavirus, a nasty little virus that is a major cause of serious diarrhoea in infants, and lots of hospitalisations occur without a vaccine. However, the vaccine comes with a rare and potentially serious side effect. In around 1-3 per 100,000 doses babies can develop a telescoping of the bowel called ‘intussusception’ – a medical emergency. This risk should be communicated to every parent before the vaccine is given and advice given. Despite this small risk, most babies receive their vaccine and now hospitalisation for this disease in NZ is uncommon.

“The myocarditis risk associated with mRNA vaccines is not dissimilar to the intussusception risk with rotavirus vaccine. Vaccinees should be informed about the risk and what to do if symptoms occur.”

Conflict of interest statement: Helen is a member of the COVID-19 Immunisation Implementation Advisory Group (IIAG).