‘It is miserable:’ Brewer firefighter shares experience with rare, but serious side effect of COVID vaccine

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 4:55 PM EDT
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BREWER, Maine (WABI) - The CDC has been investigating cases of heart inflammation caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s a rare but serious side effect.

Brewer firefighter, Jason Gross, is one of the few suffering from these types of complications.

He’s one of the many firefighters and EMTs around the state mandated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Enforcement of the mandate began October 29.

“I don’t feel that anyone should be forced to choose their livelihood or get done because you’re not taking a shot,” he said.

Gross has been in the fire service for 18 years. He’s been with the Brewer Fire Department for 16 of those years.

He received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on August 27th.

Roughly four to six hours after his shot, he says he developed chest pains. Those would come and go, but he struggled doing everyday activities.

“If I really started exerting myself, I would get chest pains, and I had a hard time breathing,” said Gross. “I would sweat like a pig, like I had been swimming. I could not catch my breath.”

He went to walk-in care where he tested negative for the virus and was sent home.

On September 17th, he received his second dose.

“I had two days of not feeling good, and then I had four days of feeling better. I was able to do things, and then after that it went downhill,” he said.

Gross’ doctor found his heart was missing a beat.

That’s when he was sent to a Bangor hospital.

Doctors discovered he was suffering from acute myopericarditis.

This is how his doctors described the condition to him.

“The shot caused your heart to swell and the lining of your heart to swell and your heart is shot the size of a softball, a little larger than a softball. They did admit that it was because of the vaccine,” he said.

Gross wore a heart monitor for two weeks and was put on a number of medications.

He’s been out of work for the last six weeks using up vacation and sick time.

He’s racked up more than $40,000 in medical bills. Luckily, he says he’s only paid $2,500 out of pocket.

During this week’s Maine CDC briefing, Dr. Nirav Shah addressed myocarditis - a similar condition that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.

According to the Maine CDC, these cases are not routinely reported by Maine hospitals.

The risk of myocarditis is around 10 cases per 100,000.

The risk of getting COVID is around 150 cases per 100,000.

“To me, it’s clear the greater risk right now is from the virus, not from the vaccine,” Shah said.

Gross is set to return to work Tuesday.

His doctors say it could take months for his heart to go back to normal.

“I think that people who are healthy, can make an educated decision, should be able to decide if they want the shot or not. I wouldn’t wish anyone to have what I got because it is miserable,” he said.

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