Increased heart rate as a physiological response to SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine

Countries like the UK, Israel, and the USA are now in the thick of successful vaccine campaigns against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the vaccine rollout continues, there have been thousands of anecdotal reports of receivers suffering symptoms of mild fatigue, achiness, and fever in the few days after dosage, to the point where members of the public that do not suffer such symptoms worry the vaccine hasn't worked for them.

Study: The Physiologic Response to COVID-19 Vaccination. Image Credit: Rido / Shutterstock
Study: The Physiologic Response to COVID-19 Vaccination. Image Credit: Rido / Shutterstock

Although widely publicized, evidence for physiological responses to the vaccines is currently scarce in published literature. Giogiro Quer and Matteo Gadaleta of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, USA, led an investigation to obtain tracking data for physiological responses to vaccine programs.

Using a smartphone-based app that reported physiological activities from smartwatches, Quer and Gadaleta found that resting heart rate increases after receiving a vaccination, especially those who received the Moderna vaccine, previously had contracted COVID, or were under the age of 40.

A pre-print version of the research paper is available to read in full on the medRxiv*server.

In the United States, two two-dose mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech & Moderna) and a single-dose vaccine (Janssen / Johnson & Johnson) are concurrently being administered to the general public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 69% percent of the nearly 2 million individuals who have received a second mRNA vaccine dose reported some fever-like side effect in the following days, between perhaps as many as 53.9% of those started just a day after receiving the jab.

Mean and 95% confidence interval of the absolute individual changes in resting heart rate (in BPM) with respect to the individual baseline around the date of vaccination (day 0), for the first dose of the vaccine (a) and for the second dose (b). The cumulative distribution of the maximal variation in resting heart rate in the 2 days after the vaccines after the first (c) and second (d) vaccine dose.
Mean and 95% confidence interval of the absolute individual changes in resting heart rate (in BPM) with respect to the individual baseline around the date of vaccination (day 0), for the first dose of the vaccine (a) and for the second dose (b). The cumulative distribution of the maximal variation in resting heart rate in the 2 days after the vaccines after the first (c) and second (d) vaccine dose.

Quer and Gadaleta's team collected data from over 4,000 American citizens using the DETECT software, a smartphone app that consensually syncs with a user's Fitbit or Apple watch device to record a participant's heart rate, sleeping patterns, and various other physiological functions.

Participants were those who had received at least one dosage of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines. All participants' resting heart rate was recorded from prior to receiving dosage, the day of, and the days afterward, and were split into three age groups: <40, 40-60, and >60.

After adjusting for confounding variables, the research team analyzed the resting heart rates of participants to infer physiological symptoms to the vaccines.

They found that resting heart rate increased in participants perhaps up to as much as an additional 1.5 beats per minute after receiving a dosage. Average heart rate additionally did not return to normal levels until four days after a primary jab and six days following a secondary jab.

Although no difference in gender was observed, previous infection by SARS-CoV-2 and the ages of participants did affect heart rate. Indeed, individuals in the under-40s group had the most significant increase in heart rate, and all those under-60 experience significantly higher heart rates than the over-60s group after the second dosage. Previous infection of COVID additionally was associated with higher heart rates, though only after the first jab. Finally, the Moderna vaccine was associated with higher rates of heart rate increase than the Pfizer vaccine, and similarly, this correlated negatively with age.

Normal activity and sleep patterns were slightly disturbed on the first night following the first dosage, with the researchers noting a significant decrease in activity and an increase in sleeping. These returned to nominal levels by the second day after vaccination, however.

This study provides comprehensive and easily accessible evidence of subtle physiological symptoms of the COVID mRNA vaccines - a slight increase in heart rate in the days following a dose, with a minor increase in resting the day afterward. The authors are confident in their findings, though caution that the Fitbit and Apple watch technologies are demographically biased, with a strong bias toward younger users. Additionally, the current vaccine rollout in America has targeted older and at-risk individuals rather than the general population.

However, this wearable sensor technology has provided at least a glimpse at the effects of the vaccines otherwise overlooked. It may allow for future more in-depth assessments to be conducted on citizens in the future.

Important notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Michael Burgess

Written by

Michael Burgess

Michael graduated with a first-class degree in Zoology from the University of Hull, and later received a Masters degree in Palaeobiology from the University of Bristol.

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Comments

  1. J SH J SH United States says:

    My resting bpm has actually gone down under the suggested rate a week and a half after my second Pfizer jab.

  2. Erin HOLLING Erin HOLLING United States says:

    Two minutes after the first dose of Moderna I received started to feel dizzy and change in sharpness of vision.  I am 38 years old without bad habits, I do not eat fast food and lead a healthy lifestyle.  Over the next three hours, I developed heart attacks similar to a strong squeezing of the heart in a vise (before vaccination, there were no heart problems).  The most intense inflammation of the lymph nodes in the neck towards the ear began.  The lymph inflammation lasted for 4 days.  It was accompanied by severe pain when swallowing saliva.  Heart attacks were critically strong during the first three to four hours after the first injection.  Then something happened that I did not understand.  As if a ball with something would explode inside me and the wave swept all over my body.  After that, I had a sharp breakdown, I could not get out of the car, my husband carried me out in his arms.  I started to get very cold at 89F (I live in Florida).  This lasted for several hours.  Of course, there were pains in the muscles of the arms.  The strangest thing is that strange heart attacks coming from anywhere did not leave me and are sometimes observed sometimes during a walk on the street.  4 weeks have passed, but I have continued sudden dizziness, as a result of one I fell and broke my eyebrow.  On May 15, I need to do a second dose and it scares me a lot.  I visited a cardiologist, they made me an electro dwarf gram, which showed that everything was fine with me.  In this case, the cardiologist does NOT recommend detailing the second shot of the vaccine.  He appointed me a wider ultrasound examination of the heart. I measure my blood pressure every day and it varies 100-110 BPM.

  3. leefi1 leefi1 United States says:

    I have never had any irregular heartbeat episodes. In fact I couldn't imagine what that condition would even feel like until I experienced it. I awoke feeling anxious, with a really odd sensation of 3 heartbeats, a pause, one heartbeat, etc. There was no "heart racing" effect, in fact it was the slow, erratic nature of the episode that really puzzled me. It was quite strange to experience, and I couldn't get comfortable in bed, fortunately, the effect was transient. After an hour or so the symptoms disappeared.
    Normally, I have few problems with tolerating medications, vaccinations, and such. This was a very odd episode. Of course, correlation is not causation, but the occurrence was 48 hours after my second dose, and it was nothing that I had ever experienced before.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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