Why should I get this vaccine?

COVID-19 is not the flu. For many it can have significant consequences.

This is a new virus with an increased risk of serious complications and possible death for many, such as those who:

  • Are aged 65 and older
  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Live with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or blood pressure issues

In Alberta, there have been more than 220,000 known cases and over 2,000 deaths. If the virus is not kept under control through public health measures, such as vaccination, we will overwhelm our health care system from a lack of resources (i.e., hospital beds, staff, equipment) for the day-to-day health issues people face. Approximately 62-95% of vaccinated people are protected from contracting COVID-19. No matter what vaccine you get, there is strong protection from severe COVID-19 disease and death from COVID-19 complications.

How do we know the vaccines are safe?

All the evidence shows the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for people 5 years and older. The evidence also shows that Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for people 18 years and older.

All vaccines in development are thoroughly tested, and all information from the trials are then reviewed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). This committee is independent of the Government of Canada and consists of many independent professionals from various backgrounds (e.g., scientists, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, public health experts, economists, etc). All members must declare any conflicts of interest, and review, assess, and update regularly to ensure recommendations are as unbiased as possible. For more information on NACI and what they examine when it comes to vaccine recommendations you can visit Canada.ca

Health Canada only approves a vaccine if it is supported by very robust scientific data with evidence showing the benefits outweigh potential risks. There is ongoing vaccine monitoring through Canada’s Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) program, as well as ongoing testing through clinical trials.

What is an mRNA vaccine?

Many types of vaccines use a weakened, inactivated virus, or part of a virus to trigger an immune response inside our body. However, instead of using the live virus that causes COVID-19, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein spike that triggers an immune response. Once triggered, our body then makes antibodies. These antibodies help us fight the infection if the real virus does enter our body in the future. Both the Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna are mRNA vaccines.

What is a viral vector (VV) vaccine?

Scientists began creating viral vectors in the 1970s. Besides being used in vaccines, viral vectors (VVs) have also been studied for gene therapy, cancer treatments, and molecular biology research. For decades, hundreds of scientific studies of viral vector vaccines have been completed and published around the world. Some vaccines recently used for Ebola outbreaks have used viral vector technology, and a number of studies have focused on viral vector vaccines against infectious diseases such as Zika and influenza. A viral vector uses a harmless adenovirus to transport instructions to produce the COVID-19 protein spike that triggers an immune response. Once triggered, our body then makes antibodies to help us fight the infection if the real virus does enter our body in the future. AstraZeneca and Janssen are viral vector vaccines.

Does it matter which vaccine I get?

No. Canada has four approved, safe, and effective vaccines for COVID-19. There is enough for any Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated; therefore, Canada purchased vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen. While they offer slightly different protection from COVID-19 infection, they all protect from severe disease and death related to COVID-19.

Why do I need three doses?

Just like all medications, it is important to follow the instructions. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require three doses, at different intervals, so your body reaches the highest level of immunity. Think of it as studying for a test. If you read something once, you might remember, but if you read it more than once, you’re more likely to remember. This is why you will be asked to get three doses of the vaccine. This is similar to other vaccines requiring more than one dose (i.e., Hepatitis B, or HPV). Recent evidence and NACI recommendations suggest you can mix vaccines to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines while enabling the maximum number of people to achieve immunity. This may include adding a second and third dose of mRNA vaccine to a VV vaccine. Public health nurses who administer the vaccination will make sure you have the information you need to book your second or third dose.

What are the side effects?

Side effects are similar to what you would expect from any other vaccine and typically last a few days. These symptoms may be a sign the vaccine is working; however, not everyone will experience them.
Side effects may include:

  • Redness or swelling at the injection site
  • Sore arm
  • Feeling achy and tired
  • Mild fever or chills
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Rare events after getting vaccinated with a VV vaccine may occur between 4-48 days after vaccination and can include very rare blood clots, low platelet levels (which help your blood to clot), and bleeding. In children, rare events have been seen with the mRNA vaccines (inflammation of the heart). The public health nurse will go over the signs and symptoms of these if you choose to get vaccinated.

Who should not get the vaccine?

Anyone who is allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients (especially polyethylene glycol found in cosmetics, skincare products, cough syrups, and more).

If you are immunocompromised, it will be important to share that with the public health nurse when you book your appointment and again when you arrive. You can also ask your physician. The decision will be up to you and your medical team; however, being immunocompromised is not listed as a reason why you should not get the vaccine. Your health care team is the best source of information about your specific health condition and whether the vaccine is a good choice for you.

How were these vaccines developed so quickly?

mRNA vaccines have been in development for over two decades for viruses such as MERS and SARS, all of which have seen positive outcomes, and viral-vector vaccines for even longer. Vaccine development and testing were able to happen much faster due to the huge global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. High case numbers around the world required immediate action. Everyone around the world began working together, increasing funding, and sharing information about vaccine development. This allowed vaccine trials to be expedited. Think of it as the world suddenly adopting a Métis way of thinking – working together as a community to make sure no one is left behind. It is amazing what can be accomplished when everyone is working together on a common goal.

Who can be vaccinated?

Everyone aged 5 and up are eligible to receive both a first, second, or third doses of the vaccine. Every person who wishes to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 will receive one.