Cardiovascular Safety of the COVID-19 Vaccine in Team USA Athletes

Sports Health. 2023 Nov 9:19417381231208677. doi: 10.1177/19417381231208677. Online ahead of print.


Background: Despite reassuring scientific data, the lay press and social media continue to propagate largely unsubstantiated claims that a significant number of athletes have died from cardiovascular complications related to COVID-19 vaccines. The present study sought to determine the incidence of COVID-19 vaccine cardiovascular complications in Team USA athletes.

Hypothesis: It was predicted that there would be a low incidence of cardiovascular complications from COVID-19 vaccination in Team USA athletes.

Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Level of evidence: Level 4.

Methods: A retrospective review was conducted on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee electronic medical record, inclusive of athletes who represented Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo and 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games, for COVID-19 vaccine cardiac complications including sudden cardiac arrest/death, myocarditis, pericarditis, and myopericarditis. Vaccination status (ie, fully vaccinated, yes or no), date of vaccination and eligible boosters, and type of vaccination during the study period were abstracted from the electronic medical record.

Results: A total of 1229 athletes represented Team USA during the 2020 Tokyo (Olympic, 697; Paralympic, 237) and 2022 Beijing Games (Olympic, 229; Paralympic, 66). For the 2020 Tokyo Games, 73.8% of Olympians and 80.6% of Paralympians with available vaccination status had completed a primary vaccine series. For the 2022 Beijing Games, 100% of Olympians and Paralympians with available vaccination status were fully vaccinated. No athletes suffered sudden cardiac arrest/death or were diagnosed with myocarditis, pericarditis, or myopericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination.

Conclusion: The data demonstrate an overall willingness of elite athletes to receive recommended COVID-19 vaccination coupled with a complete absence of vaccine-related cardiac complications in >1 year of follow-up.

Clinical relevance: Supposedly, this is the first study to investigate the incidence of COVID-19 vaccine cardiovascular complications in elite athletes. These data are an important first step to better inform cardiologists and sports medicine physicians who care for elite athletes.

Keywords: COVID-19 vaccine; athletes; myocarditis; pericarditis; sudden cardiac death.