COVID-19 Vaccine: what you need to know

The Canadian government has already purchased units of multiple COVID-19 vaccines that are either ready to be distributed or are getting close to that point.

The earliest vaccine is coming from German company Pfizer-BioNTech, and was approved by Health Canada on Dec. 9, 2020.

There is a lot of information circulating about this and other vaccines, and many more questions and facts are sure to come up.

Here’s what you need to know as Canada begins its vaccine rollout:

About the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Health Canada says the vaccine is only approved for people over the age of 16, because the safety of it for people below that age has not yet been established.

This particular vaccine requires two shots, given by injection into the muscle of the arm. The second injection takes place 21 days after the first one.

The company says based on studies of about 44,000 people, the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 beginning one week after the second dose. This means people may not be protected against COVID-19 until at least 7 days after the second dose.

The federal government says nearly 250,000 doses of this vaccine are expected to be ready for deployment by the end of the year.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at a temperature below -70 degrees Celsius, which means provinces will have to use specialized storage containers, many of which have already been procured.

A complete list of other vaccines under review by Health Canada can be found here.

How does it work?

According to Health Canada, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which means it teaches our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response without using the live virus that causes COVID-19. This gives your body the power to produce antibodies, which can help fight the infection if the real virus does enter your body.

The federal government says:

‘RNA’ stands for ribonucleic acid, which is a molecule that provides cells with instructions for making proteins. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines contain the genetic instructions for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

When a person is given the vaccine, their cells will read the genetic instructions like a recipe and produce the spike protein. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.

The cell then displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune system recognizes that the protein doesn’t belong there and begins building an immune response and making antibodies.

Health Canada

Essentially, the vaccine gives you the power to create antibodies to fight the virus if it enters your body.

Health experts have said that even with the vaccine making its way to certain people, social distancing, mask wearing, and other safety measures still have to be followed and public health restrictions may stay in place.

CBC News

Are there possible side effects?

Yes. But Health Canada says the side effects of this vaccine observed were mild to moderate and no different from other vaccines. The main side effects included pain at the site of injection (similar to a flu shot), body chills, feeling tired, and feeling feverish.

Health Canada says these are common side effects of vaccines and do not pose a risk to health.

There is a small chance of allergic reactions, which can be a more serious side effect. However, Health Canada says those reactions are rare and no other major safety concerns have been identified.

Health Canada says it will oversee and monitor all vaccines given to Canadians and companies will be required to continue clinical trials, submit detailed safety reports and information, and report any potential health risks associated with their vaccine. Canada also reserves the right to impose safety and risk mitigation terms and conditions on manufacturers.

Many doctors, including Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, have said that people will not get COVID-19 from a vaccine.

When will it be available?

While each province will roll things out a little differently, 30,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are being delivered soon to 14 “point of delivery” sites across the country where prioritized groups will be given the first small batch of shots, according to a CTV News article that details each provinces plan.

The other nearly 250,000 doses are planned to be available for distribution by the end of March 2021.

Each province has different guidelines on where vaccines will go first in order to fight the spread. The CTV News article for Manitoba quotes premier Brian Pallister and chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, who say the first vaccines will be given out as early as next week in Winnipeg. These early doses will go to approximately 900 front line health care workers, adults at risk in remote or isolated Indigenous communities, senior citizens 80-years-old and older, or those in long term care homes and assisted living facilities.

Manitoba will also be receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine once its approved, which has be stored at a temperature of -20 degrees Celsius.

According to the same article, the province has acquired 60 freezers for storage and will have enough space to safely contain 1.8 million doses of the vaccine by January.

The province says it expects to receive 237,600 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines between now and March 31, 2021. This means roughly 100,000 Manitobans (seven per cent of the population) will be able to receive a vaccine within that time frame.

Will it be mandatory?

Premier Brian Pallister has said he will not make the vaccine mandatory in the province, but says the government will do everything in its power to get people to get one and will launch an education campaign about the vaccines.

Where can you find more information?

Both the federal and provincial governments have resource web pages with information available on the vaccines that are being approved by Health Canada and how they will be delivered.

Consult either of the two links below for specific federal or provincial information.