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Experts say that even the rare cases of heart inflammation from COVID-19 vaccines pale in comparison to the damage the actual disease can cause. Morsa Images/Getty Images
  • Experts say that the mild and rare side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are nowhere near as serious as the potential damage the disease itself can cause.
  • They say that the long-term consequences of COVID-19 can include increased risk of stroke, lung damage, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • They add that there have been reports of rare cases of Bell’s palsy developing from COVID-19 vaccines but that the rate appears to be lower than that of the general population.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub and follow our live updates page for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which would you rather have: muscle fatigue or permanent lung damage?

Would you prefer mild, short-term inflammation around the heart or severe damage to that organ that could lead to heart failure?

Would you rather have moderate pain in your upper arm for a few days or increase the possibility of developing Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease?

These are just a few examples of the stark contrast between the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines and developing the disease itself.

While the vaccines’ side effects are mild and short, the damage caused by COVID-19 can be long lasting and even fatal.

As of this week, more than 330 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, and nearly 158 million people here are now fully vaccinated.

So far, the most common physical reactions to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, nausea, sore throat, diarrhea, and vomiting.

There have been some reports of rare but more serious side effects from the vaccines.

In late June, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that there’s a rare but “likely association” between the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines and a higher risk of heart inflammation, particularly in adolescents and young adults.

These include cases of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, which is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart.

In both, the body’s immune system causes inflammation in response to an infection or some other trigger.

Through follow-up, including medical record reviews, CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have confirmed 518 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis.

But these conditions have produced mild cases, with no deaths or lingering issues reported.

The people who develop these conditions usually return to normal daily activities in just a few days when their symptoms improve, but they’re advised by CDC officials to speak with their doctor about returning to exercise or sports.

The CDC continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone 12 years old and older, given the risk of COVID-19 illness and related, possibly severe complications.

Dr. Stuart Berger, a pediatric cardiologist and medical director of the pediatric Heart Center at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, told Healthline that the vaccines are quite safe.

The heart inflammation tends to occur in men ages 16 to 24. Berger noted that the CDC is looking at some 500 cases out of more than 170 million vaccinated people in that adolescent and young adult demographic.

“That puts it at .00025 percent. That is very rare,” he said. “From what we know, it is actually less common than myocarditis in the general population.”

On the other hand, even if you survive COVID-19, the disease can do permanent damage to the heart.

Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who experienced only mild COVID-19 symptoms.

This may increase the risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future.

The type of pneumonia often associated with COVID-19 can also cause long-lasting damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The resulting scar tissue can lead to long-term breathing problems.

Even in young people, COVID-19 can cause strokes, seizures, and Guillain-Barré syndrome — a condition that causes temporary paralysis.

COVID-19 may also increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other potential long-term effects of the virus include blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and psychological issues from being on a ventilator that include post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety.

Some early reports suggested that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could increase the chance of getting facial nerve palsy, also known as Bell’s palsy.

But the FDA doesn’t consider these reports to be more than the rate expected in the general population.

In Israel, where all residents are automatically a part of the national digital health registry system, some conclusions about the virus and the vaccines can be reached with early data.

In a recent study, scientists in Israel looked at whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is associated with an increased risk of acute-onset Bell’s palsy.

In this case-control analysis, investigators concluded that there was no association between recent vaccination and risk of facial nerve palsy.

While science has shown these vaccines to be safe with few side effects, the rumors still fly, especially online.

You can read everything from “the vaccine can give you COVID” to “there are microchips in the vaccines” to “there are fetal cells in the vaccines.”

There’s no validity to any of these claims.

Neal Reddy, 19, a sophomore at Princeton University in New Jersey and survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is an intern at Teen Cancer America, which supports teens and young adults with cancer.

He said that he’s heard a variety of wild, unfounded rumors about the vaccines’ side effects.

“I see a lot of it on social media from people my age, the rumors about this and that,” said Neal, who wants to study medicine.

“There’s this idea among some in my age group that your own research on social media will enlighten you more than a scientific clinical trial,” he told Healthline.

Reddy added that some people in his age group even made a big deal out of the fact that one of the effects of the vaccine is a sore arm.

“Like that is a bad sign,” he said. “When I heard that mRNA vaccines were coming out, I was confident that this would be effective and with limited side effects.”