Is It Safe to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine If I Have Heart Disease?


By Dr. Mark Lebehn

It’s been over a year since Hawai’i reported its first COVID-19 case and continued physical and social distancing in addition to vaccinations have been helping to turn the tide of the pandemic, both within our state and across the nation.

Initially, only healthcare and long-term care employees, first responders, frontline essential workers and kupuna 75 and older had been eligible for the vaccine. As of April 19th, COVID-`9 vaccinations were made available to all Hawaii residents who are 16 years or older on all islands.  Now that vaccines are widely available to all Hawaii residents, you may be thinking - should I get the COVID-19 vaccine? If you have heart disease, the answer is absolutely.

If I have Heart Disease, Should I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

If you have cardiovascular risk factors, heart disease, or a history of heart attack or stroke, you should get vaccinated. People with heart disease have a higher chance of developing serious complications from COVID-19 and approved vaccines can prevent you from contracting the virus or developing more severe complications.

In January, the American Heart Association issued a statement encouraging people with cardiovascular risk factors, heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke to get vaccinated "as soon as possible." 

"People with all kinds of cardiovascular risk factors and disease should definitely get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19," says Dr. Mitchell Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

Are the COVID-19 Vaccines Safe for People with Heart Disease?

To date, the Moderna, Pfizer-Biontech and Johnson and Johnson vaccines have been safely administered to nearly 100 million people in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective after having been evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. FDA-approved vaccines meet rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and quality required for use in the United States. These approved vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.

Some people may be questioning if the COVID-19 vaccine is safe based on how quickly it was developed. And while creating a safe, effective and quality vaccine in under a year was no small feat, there were several things stage gates that led to quick and adequate development, testing and production.

In addition to worldwide governments providing significant funding and global cooperation for research and development, scientists were not starting from scratch to develop the vaccine as research was already underway to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses. 

Elkind said that while the COVID-19 vaccines might have arrived within a year of the pandemic beginning, the research into the underlying technology had been going on for more than a decade. So people should see it as a positive that the vaccines were available so quickly.

The approved COVID-19 vaccines have been through rigorous and significant testing in large clinical trials and continue to be monitored for issues and serious side effects. Based on the rigorous standards for safety, quality and effectiveness, the CDC recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are eligible. 

The FDA-approved vaccines pose no special problems for such patients, says Elkind, who is also president of the American Heart Association.

Elkind says, getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have, because people with underlying heart conditions have a higher chance of developing complications from COVID-19.

What are the Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

According to the CDC, the most common side effects from the approved COVID-19 vaccines are pain and bruising at the site of the vaccine’s injection. People have reported mild side effects after vaccination such as a headache, chill or a fever.

A very small number of individuals have experienced allergic reactions after a vaccination, but the CDC reports this is extremely rare. While unlikely, should these reactions occur, providers at vaccination sites have available medications to immediately and effectively treat the allergic reaction.

After you get a COVID-19 vaccine, you will be asked to stay between 15 and 30 minutes so you can be observed in case you have a severe allergic reaction and provided treatment in the rare case it is needed.

Individuals living with heart disease are not at an increased risk of an allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.

If I Am Taking Blood Thinners, Can I Still Get the Vaccine?

Yes. People who are on blood thinners can still safely take the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The COVID-19 vaccines can be safely administered to people on blood-thinning medications, Elkind said. "The needle is small. To avoid bruising, people on blood thinners should press firmly for a minute or so, just like after getting blood drawn."

Most people will not need to interrupt their blood thinner regime to have the vaccine administered; however, the FDA recommends that individuals taking blood thinners mention their prescription prior to receiving the vaccine.

It is possible individuals taking blood thinners may notice a larger bruise at the site of the injection; however, this should only be a concern if the bruise becomes painful or continues to get larger, in which case a doctor should be consulted.

What Should I Know about COVID-19 and Heart Disease? 

While individuals with heart disease are not at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, they are more likely to have a more severe or critical case of the virus. Because of the increased risk of severe complications from COVID-19, people with heart disease should consider vaccination as soon as an appointment becomes available.

Where Do I Get a Vaccine?

Hawai’i’s Department of Health is coordinating with vaccination providers across the state, including The Queen’s Health Systems.

At Queen’s our team is committed to caring for our community and ensuring equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine, following the state Department of Health’s allocation and prioritization plan. The vaccination process will take several months to complete, and we appreciate patience as we work to vaccinate as many people as possible.

As of April 26th, Queen’s vaccine teams have administered more than 190,000 doses at our vaccine clinics throughout the state, including: the Blaisdell Concert Hall, The Queen’s Conference Center on our Punchbowl campus for health care personnel and frontline essential workers and other locations at North Hawaii (Big Island), Molokai and at West Oahu. To find the closest vaccine location to you and to sign up when it is your turn, please visit

Both the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines will require a second dose after three or four weeks. Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine does not currently require a second dose. Continuing to wear and mask and observe physical/social distancing in addition to following other CDC guidelines are still recommended.

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, including vaccination appointments, locations and frequently asked questions by visiting The Queen’s Health Systems’ COVID-19 Care Center or by calling the health system’s COVID-19 Vaccination Line at 808-691-2222 (Monday through Friday, 7:30 am to 5:00 pm) for updates.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Lebehn is a general cardiologist with a primary clinical focus in outpatient consultative cardiology and echocardiography.  He attended medical school at George Washington School of Medicine and completed his Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship at University of Hawaii. Dr. Lebehn is board certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Disease and Adult Echocardiography.

Caring for the Hearts of Hawai’i 

Queen's Heart at The Queen's Medical Center offers comprehensive patient-centered cardiovascular medicine, surgical care and diagnostic testing all in one convenient setting. For both routine and more complex heart and vascular conditions, our world-class team provides comprehensive services utilizing the most advanced technology, treatment and care options to ensure the highest quality of cardiac care for our patients.

From your general cardiology needs to the most complex surgical or non-invasive procedures, Queen’s Heart provides compassionate cardiac care to you and your ohana (family). Our multidisciplinary team of board-certified, professionally trained physicians and advanced practice nurse practitioners are committed to providing expert diagnosis, treatments and care for the full range of cardiac and vascular conditions to improve the quality of our patients’ lives. 

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