Under pressure from the military and his mother, Jacob Cohen was feeling increasingly cornered.
Mr. Cohen didn't want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. He knew the vaccines hadn't been available for long. He was worried about their safety.
While he initially resisted receiving a vaccine, he faced restrictions such as being forced to remain on base while vaccinated soldiers left. He was also pressured by military commanders, who scheduled a vaccination appointment for him and contacted his mother as part of a multipronged campaign.
"They told me, 'Come on. It's your mother. She's crying. She's worried. What wouldn't you do for her?'" Mr. Cohen, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym because of concern about repercussions for going public, told The Epoch Times.
"I didn't want to take the vaccine. I didn't believe in it," he said.
But he wanted to appease his mother.
"I would do anything for her," he said.
Mr. Cohen received his first vaccine dose, manufactured by Pfizer, on Sept. 22, 2021. He was 21.
Two weeks later, he was awakened by a sharp pain at 3 a.m.
"I felt like my heart was trying to get out of my chest," Mr. Cohen said.
The soldier has felt pain before.
"I never felt something like this," he said.
Mr. Cohen went with a friend to the hospital, where he was placed in quarantine because he wasn't fully vaccinated. Thirty minutes ticked by.
"I felt like it was the first time in my life I actually started seeing flashbacks of things that I did in my life—I felt like I was truly dying," he said.
Doctors finally came in and ran tests. They diagnosed Mr. Cohen with perimyocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle and the tissue around the heart.
They said he was lucky. If he had come just a little later, he would have needed open heart surgery.
He spent three days in the hospital, taking medication and pills. When he was discharged, he was told to not engage in any physical activity for at least six months. He also needed to report for regular checkups and take a pill every day.
Six months after leaving the hospital, Mr. Cohen's cardiac MRI showed concerning results. His heart still hadn't recovered.
Doctors gave him more pills.
"They told me maybe I will need them for the rest of my life," Mr. Cohen said.
The military marked him as unable to serve for the rest of his life and released him.
To this day, he suffers.
"I've been feeling, I'm not sure if it's trauma or something, but it feels sometimes like a sting there, a short sharp pain," Mr. Cohen said.
He's also unable to do everything that he used to do before.
'Continued Pain'Dr. Adam Hirschfeld was among the first people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States
The orthopedic surgeon was motivated by a desire to prevent his patients from becoming sick.
"I didn't want to put any of my patients at risk," Dr. Hirschfeld told The Epoch Times.
He received a Moderna primary series, composed of two doses, in January 2021. He was 36.
Three days after the second dose, Dr. Hirschfeld felt discomfort in his chest and numbness in his left arm.
A cardiac MRI confirmed evidence of heart inflammation. Dr. Hirschfeld was prescribed medicine and discharged two days later.
Dr. Hirschfeld has since undergone about a dozen electrocardiograms, another half a dozen echocardiograms, and a follow-up cardiac MRI.
"I went from being completely healthy—no issues, no medications—to seeing 10 different doctors in the blink of an eye," Dr. Hirschfeld said.
The follow-up MRI, conducted about 18 months after the vaccinations, showed normal cardiac function.
But Dr. Hirschfeld still experiences pain.
"I have continued chest pain on the right side, and then I have neuropathic type pains in my neck and shoulder areas," he told The Epoch Times. "I have it when I wake up, and it's there when I go to sleep."
The suffering affects the doctor physically and mentally.
"Having chest pain every day for two and a half years is very disconcerting," he said.
Shots Cleared; Cases AppearMr. Cohen lives in Israel. Dr. Hirschfeld lives in the United States.
The first myocarditis cases after COVID-19 vaccination were reported in those countries in January 2021. Only a few weeks had elapsed since authorities cleared and recommended the vaccines for large portions of the population, including many young, healthy people.
Even after the association was made public, officials and many experts claimed that the myocarditis cases were mild. Most patients were hospitalized, authorities acknowledged, but they said patients could expect to recover without treatment and with rest.
The myocarditis is "rare but mild," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director at the time, said on "Good Morning America" on June 24, 2021.
Dr. Walensky said the cases were "self-limited," or didn't require treatment to resolve.
Dr. Jeremy Faust, editor-in-chief of MedPage Today and a teacher at Harvard Medical School, on X, formerly known as Twitter, two days later described the cases as "self-limited troponinemia," or elevated troponin levels that would resolve on their own. Troponin is a protein in the heart that's a marker of heart injury.
Those claims were already wrong at the time, based on case reports alone.
Like many early case reports, no follow-up data were reported, making it impossible to say that the cases had fully resolved.
"Unless you've experienced it individually, you can't tell somebody that their case was mild," Dr. Hirschfeld said. "If you have elevated troponin, that's your cardiac muscle breaking down.
"That's something that's permanent. And so to tell me that my cardiac muscle breaking down is mild is pretty insulting."
Professional Biker AffectedKyle Warner was a professional mountain bike racer when he received his first COVID-19 vaccine in May 2021. He completed a primary series the following month.
Mr. Warner, who lives in the western United States, teaches older people and wanted to protect them from COVID-19. The CDC and others promoted the idea that the vaccines curbed or even prevented transmission based on observational data.
"The sentiment was these are safe and effective. If you get them, you don't need to wear a mask anymore, and you can't transmit COVID or catch COVID," Mr. Warner told The Epoch Times. "I spend quite a bit of time around older people and help them learn.
"I wasn't necessarily afraid of COVID myself. Not that I didn't respect it, but I wasn't worried it was going to kill me. But I was worried about getting someone else sick, especially when I'm with our older clients."
Mr. Warner was diagnosed with myopericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination and was hospitalized.
After being discharged, Mr. Warner was bedridden for weeks.
"There were points where I was unable to even get up out of bed without passing out or blacking out," Mr. Warner told The Epoch Times. "It was really eye-opening. I felt like I went from being 28 years old to being 88 years old."
Hyperbaric oxygen, which has relieved some of Dr. Hirschfeld's pain, helped bring Mr. Warner's energy levels back up.
Mr. Warner utilizes a heart rate monitor, which he became familiar with in his racing career.
During a recent ride, Mr. Warner pushed himself, trying his hardest for four minutes. That sent his heart rate up to 189 beats per minute—the highest since the injury.
"I did OK, but then the next few weeks, I had kind of a lingering chest pain and tightness. And about four days after, it was pretty significant where I was having a hard time sleeping and my heart felt like it was palpitating every once in a while, and then—even more than a week later—I still had a little bit of chest tightness and pain," Mr. Warner said.
"It kind of scared me because it's been well over a year since my last treatment with hyperbaric and I'm still dealing with it. And when I do try to push myself harder, then I have to pay for the next few days to a week.
"Back in the day, I would be able to do that with no problem at all."
Doctors who have spoken to Mr. Warner have told him that when his heart becomes stressed, it signals his immune system to attack and inflame it.
He tries to keep his heart rate under 160 beats per minute.
14-Year-Old Rushed to HospitalAiden Ekanayake woke up in the middle of the night.
It was June 12, 2021, two days after he received a second dose of Pfizer's vaccine. He was 14.
Aiden was able to fall asleep through shallow breathing but was soon awakened. He went to his mother, who rushed him to the hospital.
Tests revealed abnormalities. He was taken to the acute cardiac unit, where more tests confirmed that the vaccine was the cause.
Aiden spent four days in the hospital. After being discharged, he was inactive for more than four months.
"I don't know where they get this 'two days and you're done, you're good.' That's a crock of [expletive]," Emily Ekanayake, Aiden's mother, told The Epoch Times.
Ms. Ekanayake had read early studies from Israel that found an elevated risk for myocarditis among young males who had received the Pfizer vaccine but concluded with her son that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
"I was really scared of COVID," Ms. Ekanayake said.
Aiden said he wanted to get vaccinated to help protect himself and his brother, both of whom have asthma.
His doctor also recommended the vaccine. Shortly before Aiden was vaccinated, the CDC director said the agency found no safety signal for myocarditis. U.S. officials cleared and recommended the vaccine to virtually all children aged 12 to 15, after initially only making it available to those 16 and older.
Aiden eventually resumed exercise after being cleared by a cardiopulmonary stress test.
The result of the test was "probably more like that of an old man," according to Ms. Ekanayake.
"His CO2 was low," she said. "He wasn't able to run much. He's got a lot of work in that way to go still. But he does like walking.
'Half a Human Being'Alon was a competitive swimmer who trained every single day before he received his Pfizer vaccine.
But, in addition to the round trip to get to the pool, the Israeli boy needed to stand in line to take a test for COVID-19.
School was also an issue. Fellow students would often get sick, triggering a quarantine of those who weren't vaccinated.
"There was no chance to arrive to school and not be informed the next day that someone is sick and you [need to] be in quarantine," Alon's mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of professional repercussions, told The Epoch Times. "It's impossible. It's like putting a child in prison for doing no wrong."
Alon's mother saw vaccinated people become sick despite the vaccine, erasing her belief that the vaccine protected people. But she heard little about possible side effects and decided that the benefits, including keeping her son in school, meant he should receive the vaccine.
"He was tired of the quarantines and tests," she said.
The first dose was injected on Dec. 3, 2021; the second dose was on Dec. 24, 2021. Alon was 9.
A few days later, Alon fell into a deep sleep.
"It was scary," Alon's mother said.
Doctors ran tests, including checking his heart. They couldn't discern what was awry.
"The child is not functioning," Alon's mother said. "He was like half a human for the whole month."
The breakthrough came when Alon said, "My heart hurts." Fresh testing revealed myocarditis. It was induced by the vaccination, doctors concluded.
Alon spent the night at the hospital before being discharged. He returned a week later with chest pain. Tests showed normalization.
Alon suffered from other problems over the months that followed. He lost his sight. His leg swelled. His lymph nodes became enlarged.
Follow-up visits found no heart problems. The other symptoms eventually resolved, and Alon was cleared to resume sports. He plays for hours each day. But nearly two years later, he still suffers.
"He has periods when his heart hurts," Alon's mother said. "Sometimes for a few months, everything is fine. And then suddenly, it comes back."
She has opted to take her son to the doctor only when emergencies arise. Any time he sees a doctor, he becomes sick. And he refuses to take any more blood tests.
Worst Pain in His LifeBen Cutler loved to go to the gym. He worked out five days a week.
Because he didn't want to become infected by the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Mr. Cutler received a Moderna booster shot on Dec. 14, 2021. He was 26.
The next day, Mr. Cutler began to experience symptoms such as fatigue. He went to sleep early, but at 2:30 a.m., he was startled awake.
"I woke up and have never felt so terrible in my life," Mr. Cutler wrote in a summary of his experience.
After several days of trying to sleep the pain away, a family member convinced the Massachusetts resident to go to the hospital.
Doctors ran tests and found troponin-T levels almost 90 times the normal maximum levels.
"It was good that I could work from home. And I could start working at 7 or 8 a.m. and then work until like 2ish and then just lay on my couch for like seven hours," he told The Epoch Times.
A 10-minute walk to the grocery store would have been the only exercise he could manage in a day, he said. He described having to "budget" his energy.
After about two months, his condition started to improve. The pain dropped to threes on some days. Then twos. Then zeros.
By the end of April 2022, Mr. Cutler was able to begin lifting weights again. A follow-up cardiac MRI revealed a small fibrosis, or scar, but he feels he has recovered.
Evidence BuildsThe stories bolster the growing body of evidence that has found that a significant portion of people who suffer vaccine-induced myocarditis are affected for months or years—if they survive.
More recent data have shown that some patients still haven't recovered.
Other papers have found that even when symptoms abate, follow-up testing reveals abnormalities.
Researchers often use abnormal levels of late gadolinium enhancement as an indication of heart scarring.
"It's going to be a small percentage of the people that recovered from myocarditis, but some of them could be in for longer-term problems and morbidity, and some of them may develop actual disability," Dr. Andrew Bostom, a U.S. heart expert, told The Epoch Times.
While most patients experienced "mild myocarditis, which is mostly gone, it's true that scars can remain, because it's an inflammation of the heart muscle," Dr. Yehuda Adler, a member of the Israeli Ministry of Health's National Council for Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases, told The Epoch Times. "I'm definitely following these people even today, two years later, and I'll continue to follow them."
Dr. Rabea Asleh, director of the heart failure unit and the cardiovascular research center at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, said his team is also following patients to make sure they're OK.
He told The Epoch Times that all but one of his patients have stopped experiencing symptoms.
"If this has any clinical significance regarding the flare-up of the disease later on or the deterioration in function after a few years, we do not know," Dr. Asleh said. "But deterioration in function after a few years is unlikely."
Dr. Bostom said he wasn't so sure.
Questionable PressureMany young people received COVID-19 vaccines under pressure, such as Mr. Cohen.
Israeli military authorities punished the unvaccinated with actions ranging from taking away their leave to making them wear a special vest and isolate in their quarters.
"This is a population of young and healthy soldiers, in whom COVID is mild and transient, and there is no justified reason to vaccinate them," Dr. Yoav Yehezkelli, a specialist in internal medicine and medical management, said on Facebook. "Vaccinating the soldiers was not only folly but a lack of professionalism and a violation of medical ethics."
"They premised their policy recommendations—the vaccine passports, the mandates, the coercion, and also the gaslighting of people who are actually vaccine-injured, on this idea that we have to get a sufficient fraction of the population vaccinated for the disease to go away."
The White House has defended the mandates.
Common Symptoms and TreatmentsNearly all people who develop myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccination suffer from chest pain, doctors have found.
Patients often suffer symptoms within a week of vaccination, according to case reports, surveillance databases, and patients.
Early detection and treatment can be critical to prevent further deterioration. Exercise restrictions are imposed on most patients until they pass a cardiac stress test.
The point of the test is to detect lingering problems in a controlled setting, in which the patient exercises at less than maximum capacity, Dr. Anish Koka, a U.S. cardiologist, told The Epoch Times. Problems detected on the test may preclude participation in competitive sports and may require invasive therapies such as defibrillator placement.
Some health officials and doctors have said that the myocarditis resolves without treatment, but many patients have received drugs.
Colchicine, typically used to treat gout, has been favored by many doctors.
Mr. Cohen was initially prescribed colchicine. He was directed later to daily take Tritace, an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor that's meant to treat hypertension following serious problems such as heart failure.
Mr. Cutler took aspirin for two weeks. He replaced colchicine with ibuprofen after experiencing back pain.
Other treatments include intravenous immunoglobulin, a pooled antibody; beta-blockers; anti-inflammatory medications such as methylprednisolone; and ramipril, another angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor.
'Ignored'Several common themes link the myocarditis patients who are speaking out. That includes the feeling that they were tricked into receiving the vaccines.
"You start to realize that basically the authorities, first of all, they knew about these possible side effects. They just chose not to disclose it, or disclose it only in the few websites in the small letters," Mr. Cohen said.
Patients also feel abandoned.
"A lot of us are still dealing with significant issues that I think are being ignored," Dr. Hirschfeld said.
It hasn't helped that U.S. authorities, who have aggressively promoted the vaccines, have refused to provide compensation to many sufferers or otherwise assist them.
Both Ms. Ekanayake and Mr. Cutler applied for compensation but still haven't heard back. While the bulk of Aiden's medical bills were covered by insurance, his parents have still had to pay close to $10,000 out of pocket. Mr. Cutler paid about $5,000 because of high deductibles.
The myocarditis patients largely spoke about receiving the support of family and friends as they recovered. But not all.
"I was disowned by many of my friends for speaking out about this early on," Mr. Warner said. "It's been interesting to see so many of them come back around and apologize to me."