In the wake of three rare cardiac complications in young athletes who had recently been vaccinated against the coronavirus, doctors have strongly advised against intensive physical activity soon after receiving a vaccine dose.
The riders, all from the Acrog-Tormans Balen cycling club, were aged between 15 and 17 years old and developed chest pain during competitions or training a few days after being vaccinated.
"It is impossible to demonstrate a direct link between the vaccine and these heart problems. That is in progress," cardiologist Guido Claessen (UZ Leuven) told De Morgen.
All teenage boys were fit and healthy and none had experienced noticeable after-effects from the vaccine before engaging in intensive physical effort. No similar incidents have been reported among vaccinated riders in older age groups.
According to Kris Van der Mieren, a doctor at the Belgian Cycling Federation, the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products did put out a letter warning of the risks of inflammation of the heart as a result of the two mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
"It says that in very rare cases myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammations or swellings in the heart) can occur in the fourteen days after vaccination. And more often after a second dose and in young, athletic men," he said.
'Take it easy'
Doctors want to avoid creating panic among young athletes and have stressed that there is "no need to panic, but we recommend taking it easy for at least one week after receiving a vaccine dose."
As a result of these alarming incidents, the Acrog-Tormans Balenteam has recently issued a new rule that prohibits riders from racing immediately after being vaccinated, regardless of how well they feel.
Professional athletes in other sports have been reluctant to get vaccinated, citing performance concerns.
In tennis, world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas announced that he would not get the vaccine unless the ATP, which governs men's professional tennis competitions, made it mandatory.
However, despite a few rare cases of cardiac problems arising soon after vaccination, health experts are stressing that the benefits of getting vaccinated continue to outweigh the risks.