The COVID-19 Vaccine and Heart Health: How Cardiovascular Issues Can Affect Your Immune Response

The COVID-19 Vaccine and Heart Health: How Cardiovascular Issues Can Affect Your Immune Response

By Cynthia Thaik, M.D., FACC

Many Americans with preexisting conditions are concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine and their heart health; specifically, how cardiovascular issues can affect their immune response to the jab. Are there any risk factors to the vaccine for those with heart disease? Can an allergic reaction worsen the condition of someone at increased risk of stroke or heart attack? The Holistic Heart Healing Center has been keeping a close eye on the findings from vaccine trials and the first round of public vaccines (developed by Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech) that have gone out.

What is the COVID-19 Vaccine and How Does It Work?

The coronavirus vaccine, also known as the COVID-19 vaccine, is a staggered set of injections with the purpose of protecting a person against the worst effects of COVID-19. While formal vaccines have been in existence for over two hundred years, the COVID-19 vaccine is different to previously developed vaccines in that it does not contain weak viral particles for the body’s immune system to fight and triumph over. Instead, it contains messenger RNA, or mRNA. Essentially, the vaccine works this way:

  • The mRNA in the vaccine is absorbed by the body’s immune cells.
  • The mRNA instructs the immune cells to create a dummy ‘spike protein’ which is the same distinctive shape as the coronavirus.
  • The body registers that the dummy is not supposed to be there and sends other immune cells to break it down.
  • The dummy and the mRNA instructions are destroyed by the body.
  • The body’s immune system retains the ability to break down and defeat intrusions with that distinctive spike protein.

The efficacy and safety of this and all future mRNA vaccines is assessed on a case-by-case basis, by the FDA. While this vaccine was developed recently, the science of mRNA vaccines has been established for decades. It is highly beneficial for healthcare as mRNA vaccines are faster to develop than previous varieties.

What Heart and Stroke Patients Should Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

The consensus among cardiology experts is that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective regardless of whether someone has a high risk health condition such as high blood pressure. The FDA’s list of common reactions to the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine included:

  • Pain at the injection site (typically the arm)
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fever

It is likely that few or none of these side effects will occur. Only 10-15% of people experience them, and even if they do, these symptoms are extremely unlikely to amplify pre-existing medical conditions. All of these reactions are signs of the body mounting an immune response, which means that the vaccine is doing what is intended. Out of prudence, it is recommended that a two week gap is maintained between receiving an influenza vaccine and receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Can People with Heart Problems Safely Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The American Heart Association is firmly of the opinion that people with heart problems should prioritize getting a COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were trialed with groups that contained large numbers of patients with heart conditions or high blood pressure. No indications have been found that it is unsafe for patients with heart conditions to receive these vaccines. Considering the much higher risk that older adults, particularly older adults with severe health problems, suffer as COVID-19 patients, it is in everyone’s best interests for at-risk patients to receive a vaccine as soon as possible.

The Most Dangerous Underlying Conditions for COVID

As the healthcare community has gained over a year of experience combating COVID-19, much has been learned about how it attacks the body, and who is at greatest risk from it

  • Obesity: 42 percent of Americans are obese. Obesity is linked to inflammation, which impairs immune response. It also limits the capability of the lungs to expand, which impedes oxygenation. Especially among young people, obesity is among the biggest risk factors for COVID-19 sufferers.
  • Diabetes: Sufferers of type 1 diabetes were three times likelier, and sufferers of type 2 diabetes two times likelier to die of COVID-19 than non-sufferers. High blood sugar inhibits the immune system’s ability to fight off infection, and also puts sufferers at risk of cardiovascular complications. COVID-19 is well-known to cause severe cardiovascular issues.
  • High blood pressure: Hypertension was found to be the most prevalent condition among COVID-19 sufferers, with sufferers twice as likely to die of COVID than those without high blood pressure. However, the mortality risk seems to be mainly attached to conditions exacerbated by high blood pressure, such as heart damage or chronic kidney disease, except in those under the age of 40.

Vaccinate for Your Safety and Others’

All cardiac patients and those living with high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity should be vaccinated. Even the healthy should receive vaccinations when they become available. It is our civic duty as Americans to vaccinate so as to protect those who are unable to do so, such as children and the immunocompromised. As the virus continues to spread and mutate, growing more virulent and deadly, and the pool of vulnerable hosts that the virus can infect shrinks, vaccine holdouts are painting a target on their backs. Until vaccines are available to you, the Holistic Healing Heart Center advises all patients and their loved ones to follow the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: wearing a mask, social distancing wherever possible, and frequent hand-washing.

If you are concerned about your heart condition in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, you can book a consultation to review your cardiovascular health.

 

About the author

Dr. Cynthia Thaik, M.D., FACC is a Harvard-trained cardiologist serving the greater Los Angeles community at her holistic health center in Burbank and Valencia, CA. Dr. Thaik is the author of Your Vibrant Heart: Restoring Health, Strength, and Spirit from the Body’s Core. To learn more about Dr. Thaik or the Holistic Healing Heart Center, or to schedule an appointment, please contact info@drcynthia.com or call (818) 842-1410.