Factual information can help curb anxiety and uncertainty, and understanding the COVID-19 vaccines to make an informed decision is no different. Purvi Parwani, MD, a cardiologist at Loma Linda University International Heart Institute, offers information and guidance about the COVID-19 vaccines for people with cardiovascular risk factors and/or a history of cardiovascular complications.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with cardiovascular risk factors, long-term heart and circulatory conditions, history of heart attacks, and stroke survivors, Parwani says. Because patients with such issues are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, she urges patients to get two matching doses of whichever vaccine is offered as soon as possible.
When it comes to getting vaccinated, the benefits far outweigh the risks for people with cardiovascular issues, Parwani says. While the COVID-19 vaccines carry extremely rare risks of allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, she says there is a high risk of contracting COVID-19 in southern California due to the high positivity rate. Contracting COVID-19, she says, could lead to life-threatening complications in patients with cardiovascular concerns.
Many organizations have expressed support of the COVID-19 vaccine: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccination; and a recent statement by the American Heart Association (AHA) encourages cardiovascular patients to take the vaccine.
“Top cardiovascular organizations in the country, my colleagues, and myself all believe in the scientific integrity, rigor, and hard work that went into the development of both the vaccines,” Parwani said. “We are always concerned about our patients and want the best for them.”
Trial participants for the vaccines included those over 65 years old and people with cardiovascular conditions or risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and history of heart attacks.
“Millions of people have been vaccinated so far, and we haven’t seen any dangerous trends in either of the two vaccines,” Parwani said. “Both are efficient and deemed to be safe.”
Parwani says common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, similar to those observed with flu vaccinations, include pain at the injection site, extreme muscle pain, headaches, chills, joint pain, and fever. These expected side effects should subside within 72 hours of getting each dose. There is no evidence so far to suggest that patients with cardiovascular issues have more side effects than the general population does, she says. She also reports older people generally experience fewer side effects than younger people do.
People who have previously been infected with COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, according to Parwani. The suspected timing for immunity to the virus to wear off after infection is about 90 days, after which the risk of getting another COVID infection returns. Those who have been infected should wait until symptoms end and, by medical guidelines or physician’s order, they are able to discontinue isolation to obtain the vaccine.
Parwani imparts ten tips tailored to patients with cardiovascular concerns:
- Realize that anxiety about the vaccination is widespread throughout the community and prevalent in many individuals. Know that the anxiety about vaccination, not the vaccine itself, could be responsible for some symptoms. Try to relax before you go for your vaccination.
- If you have significant cardiovascular complications and are anxious about what will happen after vaccination, ensure you book an appointment for vaccination at a clinical facility.
- Follow the protocol of waiting in the area up to 30 minutes after vaccination in order to recognize any immediate side effects.
- Take all your medications, such as any beta-blockers or blood thinners, before attending your vaccination appointment if you have cardiovascular complications like angina or difficult cardiac chest pain and atrial fibrillation. If you are concerned that anxiety could trigger chest pain, carry a nitroglycerin pill in your pocket in case you need to take it.
- Expect a bit of bruising or bleeding around where the needle went into your arm if you are on blood thinners or anticoagulants.
- Check your International Normalized Ratio (INR) regularly if you are on medication like Coumadin or Warfarin to ensure you are within the normal range. If your INR number is very high, you may be at risk for bleeding, which could be an issue for vaccination. Discuss the matter with your doctor before getting vaccinated.
- When you go to your vaccination appointments, let the person administering the shot know which medicines you are taking and to expect potential bleeding. They may have to press on your injection site a bit more than they would with other people, but the bleeding should stop.
- Feel free to discuss everything with your cardiologist before going in for vaccine injections. Talking about it with someone you trust can go a long way.
- Be prepared for the second dose of the vaccine to have stronger or more side effects compared to the first dose. Make sure you get enough rest for at least 24 hours following each dose.
- Plan the timing of your vaccination appointment. Scheduling on a Friday could be advantageous for not having to miss work. On the other hand, if you have significant cardiovascular issues, consider going during the week in case you need to seek advice from your doctor a day or two later, should you experience any side effects.
Most importantly, Parwani says we must continue COVID-19 safe practices after vaccination, such as wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing to protect others, especially those who are at risk, since it’s not yet known whether people who are vaccinated can still transmit COVID-19.