Background: Post-vaccination myopericarditis is reported after immunization with COVID-19 mRNA-vaccines. The effect of accidental intravenous injection of this vaccine on the heart is unknown.

Methods: We compared the clinical manifestations, histopathological changes, tissue mRNA expression and serum levels of cytokine/chemokine in Balb/c mice at different time points after intravenous(IV) or intramuscular(IM) vaccine injection with normal saline(NS) control.

Results: Though significant weight loss and higher serum cytokine/chemokine levels were found in IM group at 1 to 2 days post-injection(dpi), only IV group developed histopathological changes of myopericarditis as evidenced by cardiomyocyte degeneration, apoptosis and necrosis with adjacent inflammatory cell infiltration and calcific deposits on visceral pericardium, while evidence of coronary artery or other cardiac pathologies was absent. SARS-CoV-2 spike antigen expression by immunostaining was occasionally found in infiltrating immune cells of the heart or injection site, in cardiomyocytes and intracardiac vascular endothelial cells, but not skeletal myocytes. The histological changes of myopericarditis after the first IV-priming dose persisted for 2 weeks and were markedly aggravated by a second IM- or IV-booster dose. Cardiac tissue mRNA expression of IL-1β, IFN-β, IL-6 and TNF-α increased significantly from 1dpi to 2dpi in IV but not IM group, compatible with presence of myopericarditis in IV group. Ballooning degeneration of hepatocytes was consistently found in IV group. All other organs appeared normal.

Conclusions: This study provided in-vivo evidence that inadvertent intravenous injection of COVID-19 mRNA-vaccines may induce myopericarditis. Brief withdrawal of syringe plunger to exclude blood aspiration may be one possible way to reduce such risk.

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