What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine in Canada
From vaccine types to potential timetables, read all about Canada's COVID-19 vaccination program.
Update: Canada suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 55
As of March 29, Health Canada has recommended against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 55. Reports have emerged from Europe of rare, but potentially fatal, blood clots that appear to be connected to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Though over 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been distributed in Canada, no reports of these rare adverse effects have been reported in this country. Still, as a precaution, Health Canada is recommending against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for younger Canadians.
The risk of blood clotting doesn't seem to affect older groups, so those over the age of 55 are still permitted to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine while Health Canada conducts a review.
In Europe, about 25 cases of blood clots have been identified from roughly 20 million AstraZeneca vaccines already given. Public health authorities there have said the benefits outweigh the risks, but Health Canada is opting to stay on the safe side for now and review the science.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said there's no cause for alarm among those who have already been vaccinated for more than 20 days. Most of the complications observed in Europe occurred within 14 days of getting the jab.
Why you should get vaccinated
Vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and minimize the impact of the disease on yourself and your community. Getting the jab isn't just about protecting yourself, it's about protecting your family, friends, classmates, teachers, even strangers you'll never meet!
Nearly 2 million Canadians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine so far and that number is growing every day.
Curious about the vaccine development and approval process? Check out this handy Health Canada infographic (pdf).
Who will get the vaccine, and when
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is an independent panel of experts that advises the Public Health Agency of Canada. Priority for vaccination is based on factors including advanced age, pre-existing medical conditions, socioeconomic status, and belonging to a racialized population.
All of these factors correlate with increased susceptibility to COVID-19, so members of these groups have priority as Canada's vaccination program rolls out.
Elderly people and those who care for them, frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and essential workers with direct public contact all have priority over younger people and those who can work or study virtually.
As the vaccine supply grows, and the number of vaccinated people increases, those with a lower risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 — like young, healthy students without pre-existing medical conditions — will be able to get the shot. If you're in a low-risk category, you may need to wait until the summer before you can get vaccinated.
You don't have to be a Canadian citizen to get the vaccine! If you meet the age requirement and you're recommended to get vaccinated, you can get the jab.
Read more about the stages of the vaccine rollout here.
Types of vaccines
mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA, which is essentially a recipe that teaches your cells how to create the "spike" protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Once your cells learn about the spike protein, they get rid of the mRNA instructions.
Your body's immune response kicks into gear when it encounters the spike protein, creating antibodies. The antibodies remove the spike protein, and stay on the lookout should the COVID-19 virus reach you in the future.
There's no risk of getting COVID-19 from an mRNA vaccine.
Viral vector-based vaccines are old-school and have been used in vaccine delivery for decades. A harmless adenovirus, which can cause the common cold, are used to produce the "spike" protein found on the COVID-19 virus.
Your body's immune system recognizes the spike protein as bad news and develops antibodies to get rid of it. Now that your immune system knows about the spike protein, it knows what to do if it's encountered again with the COVID-19 virus.
The spike protein that came in with the adenovirus is removed, and there's no chance you can get COVID-19 from a viral vector-based vaccine.
No matter what type of vaccine you get, you'll need about two weeks after your last dose to get significant protection — so don't throw away that mask too soon.
Approved vaccines in Canada
An mRNA vaccine, approved only for people 18 and older. You'll need two doses about one month apart. The Moderna vaccine is about 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 two weeks after the second dose.
An mRNA vaccine, approved only for people 16 and older. You'll need two doses about three weeks apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is about 95% effective in presenting COVID-19 two weeks after the second dose.
A viral vector-based vaccine, approved only for people 18 and older. You'll need two doses, roughly one to three months apart. The AstraZeneca vaccine is about 62% effective two weeks after the second dose.
Update: Health Canada has revoked approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 55 while it conducts a review of rare adverse blood clotting effects observed in Europe that may be connected to this vaccine.
A viral vector-based vaccine, approved only for people 18 and older. You'll only need a single dose! The Janssen vaccine is about 66% effective two weeks after getting the shot.
Read more about the approval process for COVID-19 vaccines in Canada.
Possible side-effects of getting the vaccine
None of the approved vaccines in Canada have significant side effects. You might get the usual mild or moderate symptoms that any vaccine can have: pain at the injection site, chills in your body, fatigue, or a fever. None of these pose a risk to your health.
Rarely, people will have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. This is quite uncommon, but if you're concerned about your posible reaction, check with your doctor before getting the jab.
Where you'll get your vaccine
Vaccine rollout is up to the provinces and territories of Canada, so where you'll get your shot depends on where you live. Check out the public health site for your location to learn more.
Doses of vaccine will become available in Canada in waves, and the vaccine should be available to everyone who wants it by September.
These vaccines were developed in a remarkably short time frame, and it's thanks to the unyielding efforts of scientists from around the globe that we could soon see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.
The more people who receive the vaccine, the better, so we encourage you, if you're on the fence, to consider getting the jab when it becomes available. The sooner everyone is vaccinated, the sooner things can return to normal and we can put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!
Learn more about Canada's COVID-19 vaccine program