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COVID can damage your heart. Not talking about it is supercharging anti-vax conspiracies
COVID infection increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiac arrest, and more. But while anti-vaxxers falsely claim these deaths as MRNA shot complications, the Biden admin is silent.
Former President Trump once said, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” about the COVID-19 virus. On the heels of this week’s inexplicable announcement that we will be officially “ending” the pandemic (“Mission Accomplished!”) while 4,000 Americans die weekly, it’s clear Biden’s “strategy” is no more scientific than the great Bleach Injector-in-Chief’s.
“COVID is the flu,” has been a common refrain for several years now. First, it was purely the territory of Trump supporters and conspiracists. Since the vaccine, it’s been picked up by the Democrats and even leftists. COVID, of course, is not the flu. It’s the third leading cause of death in the US, as it has been since 2020. The average 500-600 people dying daily in the US right now are majority vaccinated. (Obligatory oversampling bias disclaimer here: the majority of people are vaccinated, so unvaccinated people are still overrepresented. However, 500-600 deaths a day is way, way too high and not at all similar to a flu death rate. You should get vaccinated, but the vaccine is not a silver bullet, and unmitigated spread is supercharging variants and vaccine-resistant evolution).
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Looking beyond the acute phase, we have even more reason to stop downplaying the severity of this disease; I’m talking about long-term and cumulative effects that we are still learning about, and can lead to severe health outcomes that many are not even connecting to their past COVID infections.
COVID-19 infections- even mild ones- can lead to serious cardiac damage and complications- but you’re probably unaware of that if you’re getting your pandemic updates from the “pro-science” Biden Administration. As people begin to remark on the statistically significant rise in cardiac events, antivaxxers are happily filling the information void, claiming the excess deaths as evidence of the vaccine’s harm.
There is a plethora of clinical evidence that COVID increases your risk of cardiac events, including heart attack, cardiac arrest, heart disease, heart failure, blood clots, pericarditis and the anti-vaxxers’ preferred side effect, myocarditis.
As early as July 2020, Nature Reviews Cardiology published a study that found that COVID can “induce myocardial injury, arrhythmia, acute coronary syndrome and venous thromboembolism.” More recently, a paper published in Nature Medicine concluded that “the risk and 1-year burden of cardiovascular disease in survivors of acute COVID-19 are substantial.” As summarized by Stephanie Desmond reporting for Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health in her article “COVID and the Heart: It Spares No One”, the study found that “anyone infected with COVID is at higher risk for heart issues—including clots, inflammation, and arrhythmias—a risk that persists even in relatively healthy people long after the illness has passed.” Not only that, but reinfection with COVID appears to increase, not decrease, risk of poor cardiovascular outcome. In other words, the more you’re reinfected, the more that sudden death risk goes up.
How pervasive, lasting and serious cardiovascular complications of COVID-19 infection are, particularly post-recovery, is the subject of ongoing, critical research.
Data analysis by the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedar-Sinai looking at excess heart attacks found that, “although acute myocardial infarction deaths during the pandemic increased across all age groups, the relative rise was most significant for the youngest group, ages 25 to 44. By the second year of the pandemic, the “observed” compared to “predicted” rates of heart attack death had increased by 29.9% for adults ages 25-44, by 19.6% for adults ages 45-64, and by 13.7% for adults age 65 and older.” A study in the Journal of Medical Virology confirmed excess acute myocardial infarction mortality with data through March of 2022. Not only are deaths notably higher, but younger people are experiencing these events and dying more frequently; this is anecdotally observable to the public.
Of course, these excess cardiac events are not confined to the US. In Australia, an analysis of mortality data by the Actuaries Institute found that ischemic heart disease deaths in the first eight months of 2022 were 17% higher than would be expected in a normal year. And the linked reporting at The Age wasn’t shy about why, directly linking the deaths to both delayed care because of the ongoing pandemic burden on the health system, and heart damage post-COVID. India Today openly reports on the post-COVID heart disease and deaths as established science- and this is a country, anti-vaxxers take note, which never even received the MRNA vaccines.
We do have reason to believe that vaccination reduces risk of heart attack, stroke, and serious cardiac complications, just as it reduces mortality in the acute phase, but reduction is not elimination. As reported in Fortune’s fantastic but little-circulated article Strokes, heart attacks, sudden deaths: Does America understand the long-term risks of catching COVID?: “In a huge analysis of more than 30,000 vaccinated patients who had experienced COVID breakthrough infections (pre-Omicron), scientists found that six months later, even the vaccinated incurred a higher risk of death and debilitating long COVID symptoms involving multiple organs (the lungs, heart, kidney, brain, and others) when compared to controls without evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
Back in 2020, prior to the vaccines, major outlets weren’t opposed to observing and commenting on the cardiac and circulatory damage being reported post-COVID. Yes, their attention was largely diverted to the more visceral threat of acute COVID: the slow, torturous deaths of humans struggling to breath in packed ICUs. But as studies rolled in pointing to longer-term effects, the media diligently communicated about them.
On April 25, 2020, the Washington Post reported, Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19, are dying of strokes, and stated “On average, the covid-19 stroke patients were 15 years younger than stroke patients without the virus.” On August 8, 2020, the Post reported “Health experts worry the Coronavirus could cause lasting heart complications.” In September of 2020, the New York Times reported that “Covid-19 May Have a Hidden Impact on the Heart”.
Why aren’t these acknowledged facts front and center as we deal with an inundation of anti-vaccine misinformation that claims the vaccine is causing the statistically validated excess sudden deaths?
It seems with Presidential President Biden, we have gone Back to Normal. A moderate Democrat is in office and the media happily changed its tune to embrace the mask-off, reinfections-on approach once decried under Trump. Under Biden, we will all get COVID twice a year, and we will all be fine. We will not talk about the ongoing mutation of the virus amidst unchecked spread, or the prevalence of Long COVID, or the pesky fact that it’s still the third leading cause of death in the US, or that hundreds of vaccinated people continue to die daily. We will not acknowledge the growing body of studies pointing to serious, long-term and cumulative impacts of COVID, because acknowledging those studies would require us to actually do something about the crisis.
What is the argument for keeping the serious cardiac dangers of COVID from the public, other than that it would disrupt the preferred narrative of politicians and business leaders that COVID is no worse than the flu?
Admitting that COVID can have severe health implications that go beyond the five day or two-week acute period would throw a wrench in our enjoyment of what we’ve been sold as the “post-pandemic” era. If getting COVID even once increases your risk of heart problems, well, what might happen to someone who contracted it eight times? How about 15? Or how about 20 times before college—a not-unlikely scenario for babies being born today if this disastrous denial carries on indefinitely.
I should note that all of this science is still developing, that COVID’s long-term and cumulative health risks go well beyond heart damage, and that whatever the extent of the virus’s ability to harm, the smart and science-driven response is to treat the virus with respect, not arrogance. Instead we are reinfecting ourselves with staggering hubris, apparently convinced by our placating public officials that, for some unfathomable reason, a novel virus just plain couldn’t be all that bad.
Do we really believe that mothers who obsessively monitor their babies’ screen time and potential microplastic consumption would breezily allow their kids to be infected and reinfected with this novel virus if they fully appreciated that we have no evidentiary basis to compare COVID to a flu?
The Biden Administration being dishonest with the public about our increased risk of sudden death after COVID infection has cascading implications. On December 23, Biden bragged, “Things are getting better. COVID no longer controls our lives. Our kids are back in school. People are back to work,” without mentioning the hundreds of daily deaths, nor gesturing to the growing body of evidence that continual reinfection is quite dangerous. On January 3, his press secretary Karinne Jean-Pierre doubled down on his message, pointing out that, “some of you were here for Jen’s first briefing. There were 14 of you masked up. And look where we are two years later. We are in a different place.” Rather than pointing to any solid metrics, like American life expectancy (it went down), deaths (hundreds daily), or spread (completely uncontained), this White House considers “journalists stopped wearing masks” amid the ongoing pandemic to be its great victory.
Meanwhile, the public may not understand the risks they are taking with continual reinfection- but they certainly can observe that something is off. Unfortunately, the explanation they’re reaching for as we witness a higher level of sudden deaths is not *infection with a novel pathogen*, it’s *the vaccine did it.*
While public health officials, the Biden administration, and the media remain silent on COVID’s cardiac effects, there is one group seizing the opportunity to grow support for their dangerous movement. Every time a celebrity or athlete experiences a sudden cardiac arrest or heart attack, the anti-vaxxers are out in force. When Lisa Marie Presley died at 54 after suffering a cardiac arrest, the announcement hardly had time to hit social media before the internet was aflame with accusations that “the vaccine” or as the anti-vaxxers sneeringly call it, “the jab,” was to blame. A similar reaction met Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, the young man who collapsed on live TV during an NFL game, with anti-vaxxers right away screaming that the jab, the shot, the COVID vaccine must have been the culprit.
My point is not to armchair diagnose anyone with post-COVID heart damage. I can’t know who did or did not suffer from it, specifically; but I can know that COVID infection, along with other factors, increases the risk of those outcomes, the way smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. The same way we can’t know which storms, hurricanes and heat waves might have “happened anyway” were there no climate change, we can’t know which cardiac events might have occurred anyway. But we can know that these events are becoming more frequent and more severe, and occurring in younger people. The same way it is irresponsible to talk about severe, unseasonable weather events with no acknowledgement of the underlying causes, it’s irresponsible to observe an increasing number of people with cardiac damage and not mention COVID.
Yes, it’s absurd that the right-wing rag Daily Mail thinks it can get away with inventing “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome” to explain away the deaths without using the word COVID. But legitimate news outlets like the Times and Post are also carefully avoiding mention of COVID when the topic of sudden deaths arises—as it seems increasingly to do.
A responsible information campaign to nip this conspiracy in the bud would point to the substantiated fact that risk of cardiac arrest and serious cardiac injury is greatest during an acute episode of the disease and continues to be elevated for at least a year after infection. The best rebuttal to the anti-vax chatter would be to widely publicize the fact that the risk of myocarditis is far higher after COVID infection than after vaccination. People should know that according to the recent study linked above in Cardiovascular Research, their risk of death after COVID is found to be elevated five-fold vs uninfected controls for 18 months. This would encourage, rather than discourage, vaccination.
But it seems the Biden administration would rather destroy the public trust in medical interventions than admit the pandemic is still ongoing. They’d rather people stop getting vaccinated than that they stop dining out. They’d rather the virus spread, and mutate, and spread, and mutate, than do anything to slow the gears of capitalism grinding workers’ bodies down to nothing.
From a political perspective, this makes perfect sense. The Democrats will continue to put their faith in the failed leadership and sneer at the conspiracies gripping the public online. The Republicans retreat into their anti-vax bubble, whipping up hysteria but likely little more. Neither side fields any demands to do more, to handle the problem, to stop the deaths. The journalists take off their masks because the President encourages them to. The public stays united in their unearned belief that constant COVID reinfection is fine, maybe even good for you. And the antivaxxers find unlikely allies in the public health officials telling us that COVID has one day, like a miracle, disappeared.
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