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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines in Canada

Wondering when you can get vaccinated for COVID-19 in Canada? Got questions about the vaccines? We’ve put together a list of important resources to answer your top questions about COVID-19 vaccines for Canadians. Here’s what you need to know.

We will continue to update this page as more information about COVID-19 vaccines in Canada becomes available. This page was last updated on January 20, 2021 and has been reviewed by Dr. Brett Belchetz, a Canadian physician and CEO of Maple.

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Understanding the vaccines

Are the different COVID-19 vaccines all the same?

No. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and many others have all been trying to develop their own COVID-19 vaccine using different research and techniques. At the moment, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved by Health Canada.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are somewhat similar as they both use a technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA. These vaccines don’t contain a weakened version of the COVID-19. Instead, they contain material that teaches our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response. Once triggered, your body then creates antibodies that can help you fight an infection from the real virus. Studies showed that these vaccines were 95% effective in preventing COVID-19.

The AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t mRNA-based. Instead, it uses a more traditional technique called “recombinant viral vector.” Studies so far have shown that this vaccine has a lower efficacy rate – around 70%. It’s also cheaper to produce, more stable and it doesn’t have to be stored at very cold temperatures, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. However, the AstraZeneca vaccine still hasn’t been approved by Health Canada.

Are there side effects?

The side effects for the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines have been shown to be relatively mild: pain around the injection site, sore arms, and, occasionally, fever, headache, and flu-like symptoms.

Health Canada has also issued a recommendation that people with allergies to any of the ingredients in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine should not receive the vaccine. You can find the list of ingredients for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine here.

As with any new vaccine, potential rare side effects will continue to be monitored very closely. We will update this page when new information becomes available.

Maple is currently offering independent COVID-19 tests for international travellers in the GTHA. Schedule your test online.

How long does it take for the vaccines to work?

For the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines to work best, you need to get an initial dose followed by a second dose weeks later. Some immunity to COVID-19 occurs following the first dose, but the best response is obtained two to four weeks after the second dose.

For the Pfizer vaccine, you need to receive the second dose 21 days after the initial dose. For the Moderna vaccine, the second dose occurs 28 days later. The AstraZeneca vaccine doses need to be about a month apart.

Once I get vaccinated, how long will my immunity to COVID-19 last?

At the moment, we simply don’t know. Initial results from studies suggest that we could have a fairly durable immunity, but further studies are required to answer this question.

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Getting vaccinated

Who can get vaccinated right now?

COVID-19 vaccines will first be made available for healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. Realistically, it may take several months before the vaccines can be made available for the general public. For now, the general public must continue to wait, although it is encouraging to know that help is on the way. We will update this page when new information becomes available.

Are the vaccines safe?

Health Canada has conducted a rigorous scientific review of the available scientific evidence to assess the safety, efficacy, and quality of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. No major safety concerns have been identified.

That being said, some people still fear vaccines even when many studies have been completed proving their safety and effectiveness. Questions about safety will need to be addressed so that people feel comfortable. Hopefully, seeing others around them get the vaccine and experience little or no side effects will convince those who are hesitant to get the vaccine.

Should I get vaccinated if I’ve had COVID-19?

Yes. While your body can produce antibodies after being infected with COVID-19, this immunity may not last for long. More research is required to determine just how long people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 will remain immune from the virus. There have been reported cases of re-infection with COVID-19.

When will pregnant people be able to get vaccinated?

Pregnant women have a risk of experiencing severe illness if they contract COVID-19. That said, there currently isn’t enough research available about the impact of the vaccine on pregnant women. We recommend discussing your specific circumstances with your doctor to decide on the best course of action.

Is it safe for children to be vaccinated?

At present, there is not enough data to understand the impact of COVID-19 vaccinations on children. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for people 16 years of age and older. The safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine hasn’t been established among people under 16 years old. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for people 18 years of age and older. The safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine hasn’t been established among people under 18 years old.

Maple is currently offering independent COVID-19 tests for international travellers in the GTHA. Schedule your test online.

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Returning to normal

Will you have to get the vaccine every year similar to the common flu vaccine?

It’s not yet certain how frequently the COVID-19 vaccine needs to be administered. Researchers will study whether COVID-19 vaccines need to be administered annually or as a “booster shot” every few years.

Can I stop following physical distancing rules and travel restrictions once I get the vaccine?

In the short-term, physically distancing and limiting travel to essential trips is still advised. It’s uncertain whether vaccinated individuals can be asymptomatic carriers of the vaccine, since this was not part of initial studies. If vaccinated individuals do become asymptomatic carriers, they can infect others who haven’t had a chance to receive the vaccine.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is achieved when a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated and the chain of transmission is broken. This means that we don’t have to wait until everyone is vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but we do have to achieve significant vaccination numbers.

How many people need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be achieved?

Currently, it’s unknown how many people need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19. Further research is required. However, some experts anticipate that at least 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order for herd immunity to be achieved.

Schedule an independent COVID-19 test for travel.

In partnership with Switch Health, we offer COVID-19 tests for passengers who are travelling internationally and require a negative test.

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