Feb. 8, 2022

UCalgary clinician-researcher encourages parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19

Steven Greenway says coronavirus poses more risk to heart health for children than COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Steven Greenway
Steven Greenway

A University of Calgary researcher-clinician is counselling parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. Dr. Steven Greenway, MD, a paediatric cardiologist, says the rare complications that occur in kids exposed to the virus are more likely to develop when they are exposed to the virus in the community, rather than through the vaccines.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for kids ages 12 and older, while only Pfizer has been approved for children ages five to 11.

“I empathize with parents’ concerns of the unknown,” says Greenway, researcher, and associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine.

With the vaccine, there is controlled exposure to part of the virus, but with the illness, there is no control over how that virus will run its course. From a risk standpoint, controlling exposure through the vaccine makes more sense.

Greenway, who works at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, has been involved in the treatment of some of the children, ages five to 17 years, who have developed complications from COVID-19, and those who have developed inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.

Myocarditis is usually associated with viral infection (not just COVID-19) and may reduce the heart’s ability to pump and cause the heart to beat rapidly or irregularly. Possible symptoms include burning or sharp chest pain that worsens on changing position.

“Although myocarditis from the vaccine and from the virus are both rare, they are very different diseases,” says Greenway. "In my experience, myocarditis related to the vaccine has been mild and has not caused a decrease in heart function. Myocarditis associated with natural exposure to a virus is more serious and potentially more permanent.”

There is growing evidence that the risk of developing myocarditis from a COVID infection is much higher than the risk of developing the condition after receiving an mRNA COVID vaccine. Greenway notes another consideration for opting to vaccinate children is that little is known about long COVID in kids. In adults, symptoms like breathlessness, exercise intolerance and autonomic disturbances such as a racing heart upon standing, can continue long after patients recover from the acute disease.

“Fortunately, the vaccines are proving to be safe, even in children with heart conditions, and those who have previously had viral myocarditis,” says Greenway.

Alberta Health Services

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.

Steven Greenway is an associate professor in the departments of Paediatrics, Cardiac Sciences, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the CSM’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.