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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 June 1st, 2021 and has been reviewed by our Canadian healthcare provider.

Official COVID-19 vaccine information

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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 Johnson & Johnson have all been trying to develop their own COVID-19 vaccine using different research and techniques. At the moment, the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) 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 COVID-19. Instead, they contain material that teaches our cells how to make a protein, which 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 the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19.

The AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines are the same type of vaccine. They are viral vector-based vaccines, using SARS-Cov-2 spike proteins to trigger an immune response. The recombinant viral vector used is the adenovirus, the same virus that causes the common cold. The viral vector in the vaccine produces the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein – a protein that’s also found on the COVID-19 virus. This method allows your body to build an immune response to the spike protein, without exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

The main difference between them is that the AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses while the Janssen vaccine only requires one. The AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines have similar efficacy rates – around 62% for AstraZeneca and 66% for Janssen.

How long does it take for the vaccines to work?

Once administered, the vaccine starts to work immediately. It triggers a response from your immune system to build a memory of a specific virus or pathogen. That way your body has a faster, stronger response if it sees this pathogen again. This immune response is also the reason why you may feel flu-like symptoms after receiving a vaccine. It takes your body about 2 weeks to build a strong immune response to this specific pathogen. Just like childhood vaccines, some of the COVID-19 vaccines require boosters to achieve the best response.

For the Pfizer vaccine, you must receive two doses. Currently, the second dose is recommended to be administered 21 days after the first.

For the Moderna vaccine, you must receive two doses. Currently, the second dose is recommended to be administered one month after the first.

For the AstraZeneca vaccine, you must receive two doses. Currently, the second dose is recommended to be administered 4 to 12 weeks after the first.

For the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, you only need one dose.

For the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines to work best, you need to get both doses. Some immunity to COVID-19 occurs following the first dose, but the best response is obtained two to four weeks after receiving the second dose.
At the moment, the recommended vaccine schedule remains the same as it is listed above. However, some people in Canada have not been receiving the vaccine according to the recommended schedule. This has mainly been due to the limited supply of vaccines, as well as the prioritization of certain populations at the provincial level.

Many factors are considered when determining who should get the vaccine first, and when they should receive their second dose. There are a number of risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 that must also be taken into consideration, such as:

  • Risk of severe death or illness
  • Ability to physically distance
  • Access to other measures of prevention (i.e., personal protective equipment)
  • Vaccine supply
  • Viral transmission rate

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provides information updates to the Public Health Agency of Canada. This information is then shared with decision-makers on a provincial level.

Access to vaccines provincially is changing every day. We’ll be updating information on this page as it becomes available.

For now, if you’d like more information, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.

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. However, further studies are required to accurately answer this question.

Are there side effects?

The side effects for the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines have been shown to be relatively mild. They appear as pain around the injection site, temporary lymph node enlargement, and in some cases, fever, headache, and flu-like symptoms.

Health Canada recommends that you check the ingredients list in all of the vaccines on the Health Canada website and speak with your physician about any serious allergies you have before receiving any of the vaccines.

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.

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Getting vaccinated

Where can I find the latest information about the vaccine rollout?

Visit the Health Canada “Vaccines for COVID-19: Authorized vaccines” page for the latest, reliable information about the vaccine rollout and the list of authorized vaccines. You can also follow the Health Canada and Public Health Agency of Canada Twitter account.

Who can get vaccinated right now?

On May 5, Health Canada approved the use of Pfizer vaccines for people aged 12 and older. Each province is following their own schedule to ensure people most at risk are being vaccinated first. Most provinces have vaccines available to the general public in five year descending increments, some provinces have started giving second doses. Visit Health Canada to check how, when, and where you can get vaccinated.

Canada is on track to receive 36.5 million doses by the end of June, and 48 million before the end of September 2021. Realistically, it may take several months before the vaccines can be made available to the general public. Three new purchase agreements for three additional vaccines are pending authorization with Health Canada. For now, check your provincial eligibility criteria. If you’re not yet eligible, rest assured 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, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccines. Health Canada suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines on March 30, 2021 until further investigations can be completed.

Rarely, vaccines can cause serious side effects. One in particular associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is the risk of what is called vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT). This very rare condition mimics a condition called heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a life-threatening complication of exposure to a medication called heparin. HIT results in antibodies against platelet factor 4 (PF4), causing clots. Unlike in HIT, antibodies in VITT are heparin-independent. Risks of VITT are unknown at this time. As we learn more, the areas of the body that are most often affected are the cerebral veins and splanchnic veins. However, at this time it’s unclear why. These thrombotic events have been reported up to 24 days after receiving vaccination. Treatment involves high doses of intravenous immune globulin (IVIG). Although it’s rare, the consequences can be devastating. For this reason, Health Canada has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine until further investigations can be completed.

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 getting the vaccine and experiencing little to no side effects will convince those who are hesitant to get the vaccine.

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 12 years of age and older. The safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine haven’t been established among people under 12 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 haven’t been established among people under 18 years old.

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been suspended in Canada until further studies are completed.

The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for people 18 years of age and older. The safety and efficacy of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine haven’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.

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. With 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 determine the best course of action for you.

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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. Having received a vaccine does not mean you cannot become infected with the virus and spread it to those around you. Vaccination will help reduce the severity and duration of illness from the virus. It’s also uncertain whether vaccinated individuals can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, as this was not part of initial studies. If vaccinated individuals do become asymptomatic carriers, they can infect others who haven’t yet received 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.

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Additional resources

Allergic reactions from the COVID-19 vaccine
While the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine is great news, some people are understandably concerned about the possibility of allergic reaction.

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The COVID-19 vaccine and herd immunity
Society will be able to return to normal once we achieve herd immunity. Learn what herd immunity is, and how you can help speed up the process.

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Will life go back to normal after we get the COVID-19 vaccine?
We're all excited to hear that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Canada. So, when can we expect life to go back to normal?

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What we know so far about COVID-19 vaccines and immunity
A COVID-19 vaccine has been approved, but many of us still have questions about the way immunity will work. Here's what we know so far.

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What is the COVID-19 vaccine?
A COVID-19 vaccine has just been approved in Canada. Here's what you need to know.

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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.