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Frequently Asked Questions
Safety and efficacy of approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada
1. What is the COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine aims to prevent illness and limit transmission
of the virus. As of December 9, 2020, the COVID-19 vaccine from
Pfizer-BioNTech has been approved by Health Canada
for use in individuals aged 16 years and older with some exceptions. As
of December 23, 2020, the COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna has been
approved by Health Canada for use in individuals 18 and older with some
exceptions. Several COVID-19 vaccines developed by other pharmaceutical companies are still undergoing approvals. Learn more about the vaccine from the Government of Canada.
2. I have heard that the COVID-19 vaccine was approved quickly. Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for use in approved populations. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Health Canada conducted an expediated, or rolling, approval process.
This means that the vaccine was evaluated for safety and efficacy while
it was being developed, and again when it was finalized. Though faster,
all of the components of a routine approvals process were addressed.
For more information, please watch the video linked below:
3. What is an mRNA vaccine and how does it work?
In general, messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, tells our cells which proteins to make. The COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine and it tells our cells to make proteins that are part of the coronavirus. These proteins are called “spike proteins”. Once made, spike proteins are recognized by our immune system as foreign and our system starts to create antibodies to clear our bodies of this foreign material. The immune system removes the mRNA from the vaccine and destroys the spike proteins with antibodies. Our immune system also remembers this foreign material. This means that if someone receives the COVID-19 vaccine, develops an immune response, and then gets the virus, their immune cells will be able to recognize and destroy the viruses before they can make the person sick.
Although COVID-19 mRNA
(Health Canada) vaccines are new for use, mRNA vaccines are not
unknown, researchers have been studying and working with them for
decades. For more information, please watch the videos linked below:
4. Did the clinical trials include people of different races and ethnicities?
Yes. Of the clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,
approximately 42% of global participants and 30% of participants from
the United States of America have racially and ethnically diverse
backgrounds. Pfizer-BioNTech has created an infographic that highlights the breakdown of participants by background and age.
5. Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause COVID-19 infection?
No, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot cause a COVID-19 infection. The
COVID-19 vaccines currently approved do not use live components of the
virus. This means that it is impossible for them to cause COVID-19
6. I have heard there are new strains of the COVID-19 virus. Is
there information about the effectiveness of the existing vaccine on the
As of right now, experts believe the vaccine will work with the new
strain. There is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine will not be
effective against the new strain, however this is a rapidly evolving
area of study.
7. Will I have to get the COVID-19 vaccine at regular intervals?
It is possible that additional vaccinations for COVID-19 will be
needed to maintain immunity. Before we know for sure, more evidence will
need to be collected regarding how long our immunity will last and
whether the virus itself will change over time.
Guidelines for immunization
1. Who should not get the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines?
The Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in people aged 16 and older
who do not have contraindications. The Moderna vaccine is approved for
use in people 18 years of age or older without contraindications.
As with all vaccines, the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are
contraindicated for people who have an immediate or anaphylactic
hypersensitivity (allergy) to any component of the vaccine or its
packaging. Similarly, the vaccines are contraindicated for individuals
with a history of anaphylaxis after a previous dose of the vaccine.
2. Can people who are breastfeeding get the vaccine?
Breastfeeding individuals can choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine following a thorough conversation with a Health Care Provider. This conversation can, and often will occur, between the individual and the immunizer during the appointment. For specifics about this conversation, please refer to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Recommendations for Special Populations.
3. Can people who are pregnant get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Individuals who are pregnant should talk with their primary care or treating provider before deciding to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A conversation about the risks and benefits will be important to determine if the vaccine is right for you and will help to ensure that an informed choice is made. This conversation should also cover the potential risks or consequences of a COVID-19 infection and acknowledgement of insufficient evidence for use during pregnancy. For more information, refer to the refer to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Recommendations for Special Populations and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada for their statement on COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy.
4. Can individuals with autoimmune conditions, immunodeficiency conditions, and those who are immunosuppressed get the vaccine?
People who have autoimmune conditions, immunodeficiency conditions, and those who are immunosuppressed can choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine following a thorough conversation with a Health Care Provider. This conversation needs to occur before booking an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic. For specifics about this conversation, please refer to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Recommendations for Special Populations.
5. Can I get immunized if I have COVID-19 symptoms?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, your immunization should be
postponed until they resolve. Waiting to get the vaccine until you are
feeling well will allow you to identify any side effects, without
potentially confusing them with symptoms of an illness. It will also
help reduce the risk of transmitting the illness at the immunization
6. Can I get immunized if I have been previously diagnosed with COVID-19?
Yes. The National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) recommends
that people who have previously had a confirmed COVID-19 infection get
the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because the length of time immunity lasts
after a COVID-19 infection resolves is currently unknown, and
reinfections have been reported.
7. I just got vaccinated for something else. Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine now?
You should wait 14 days before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine if you have had another type of vaccine.
8. Can I get a different vaccine after receiving the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine?
After receiving your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you should
not receive any other vaccines for 28 days. If for some reason you need
another vaccine within 28 days, discuss this with your primary health
9. Why should I get vaccinated if COVID-19 has a high survival rate?
COVID-19 can be a serious illness for many people, including those
who are young and were previously healthy. Symptoms can persist for
months, and the virus can damage the heart, brain and lungs. Getting
COVID-19 can also increase the risk of long-term health problems.
The potential short-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are
worth the protection it will provide you and may also help stop the
spread to others.
Administration and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine
1. How will the COVID-19 vaccine be administered?
Like most vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered
intramuscularly (into the muscle) to the shoulder. It will be a two-step
vaccine, meaning that you will be required to receive two doses a few
weeks apart. The current schedule is for 21 days between the two doses
of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 28 days between the two doses of the
2. What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine and how common is it to experience side effects after being vaccinated?
Like any other vaccine or medication, there are potential side
effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. Based on evidence collected in clinical
trials, the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are very similar to
those associated with the influenza vaccine. Serious side effects are
rare, but not impossible.
Sequencing of COVID-19 vaccine administration
1. Who should get the COVID-19 vaccine first?
Individuals most at risk for complications if they become sick with
COVID-19, and the people who care for them, should get the vaccine
first. These populations include residents, staff and essential
caregivers in long-term care home and retirement homes; health care
workers in hospitals; people living and working in other congregate care
settings; as well as remote Indigenous communities. They will be
sequenced to receive the vaccine during Phase 1 of local vaccine
rollout. Learn more about the recommended groups identified by the
National Advisory Council on Immunizations (NACI) and the key groups
identified by the Government of Ontario.
2. I am not a member of a key population group identified to receive the vaccine first. When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The province of Ontario has announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will rollout in three phases. People who do not fall into a key population group can expect to receive the vaccine during Phase 3.
Considerations for Long Term Care (LTC) and Retirement Homes (RH)
1. Why are we getting the vaccine first?
The COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out to identified key groups
first. These groups include residents, staff, and essential caregivers
in long-term care and retirements homes. As an employee or essential
caregiver, you work with some of the most vulnerable people in our
community. As you know, many of the residents would be unable to
complete their day-to-day activities without your help. By getting the
vaccine you will be less likely to get sick with COVID-19. Staying safe
and healthy helps keep those you care for safe and healthy too.
2. What happens if I wait to get the vaccine?
If you are eligible for the vaccine and it is available, you are strongly encouraged to get immunized as soon as you can.
3. If I feel unwell after getting the shot, will I be paid while I cannot go to work?
If you are unwell after you receive your COVID-19 vaccination and are
and unable to work, you may be eligible for paid pandemic leave for the
period of illness up to 14 consecutive calendar days. Please consult
your supervisor and administrator if you need to take pandemic leave.
If you experience mild COVID-19 symptoms after vaccination, follow the instructions from your workplace.
4. Will staff be tested weekly for COVID-19 after they receive the second dose of the vaccine?
Yes. Staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 after the second
dose according to the testing frequency currently required. This is
based on the current provincial government.
5. Will the COVID-19 vaccine be made mandatory for LTC and RH staff
in the future? If the COVID-19 vaccine becomes mandatory, will medical
exemptions be accepted, and will staff be able to work in LTC and RH
with these medical exemptions?
At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, but highly encouraged for staff to help protect against the COVID-19 virus.
Government responsibilities related to COVID-19 vaccine
1. What is Public Health’s role with respect to the COVID-19 vaccine?
Public Health is leading the planning and roll-out of the COVID-19
vaccine and working with local agencies and key stakeholders to
coordinate distribution, administration, and public communication.
Public Health has a mandate to reduce vaccine-preventable diseases
through immunization and has much experience in community-based
publicly-funded immunization programs. Throughout planning, we will
continuously consider local engagement, geography, access, and equity.
This ongoing work will continue to be informed by a depth of experience
with the seasonal influenza vaccine campaign as well as with
immunization campaigns in response to the H1N1 pandemic and local cases
of meningitis and hepatitis A, among others.
2. What is the role of the Provincial Government with respect to the COVID-19 vaccine?
The Province of Ontario is leading the overall immunization strategy
for Ontario and identifying who will get the vaccine first. The
Province has announced a phased approach to immunization and identified key population groups (Government of Ontario) that should receive the vaccine first.
3. What are the responsibilities of the Federal Government with respect to the COVID-19 vaccine?
The Federal Government is responsible for obtaining and approving vaccine. They will also distribute the vaccine across the country.
Recommendations and regulations associated with COVID-19 vaccine
1. Can I go back to my regular activities, without public health measures, after I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The simple answer is no, at least not right away. Continued public
health measures like wearing your mask or face covering, practising
physical distancing, and washing your hands frequently will be necessary
even after the vaccine has been introduced. They will be recommended
for everyone, including individuals who receive the vaccine. This is
until we achieve widespread protection against the virus.
2. Why do I have to continue to wear a mask and keep my distance after I am immunized against COVID-19?
Everyone should continue with COVID-19 recommended public health measures
even after being immunized. This is because there is not enough data
yet to let us know how long the vaccine will protect us. Also, more
studies need to be done to understand how well the vaccines protect us
against getting infected and not showing symptoms (asymptomatic
infections) and potentially spreading the virus to others. There is
evidence that the recommended public health measures, including physical
distancing, masking, hand hygiene, and isolation, are effective in
3. Is the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?
While not mandatory, the vaccine is highly recommended for all eligible individuals.
4. Will I be required to carry proof of vaccination once I receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
Ontarians who receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be provided with proof
of receipt. At this time, the specifics of what this document will look
like are still being finalized by the province.
Storage and transport of COVID-19 vaccine
1. I have heard the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has to be stored with
dry ice. Does the Moderna vaccine have to be stored this way as well?
No. While the Moderna vaccine also needs to be frozen, it can be stored at much higher temperatures than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Specifically, the Moderna vaccine must be stored between -25°C and -15°C, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored between -80°C and -60°C.
2. Can the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be moved to different locations after arriving to the point of delivery?
Yes. New guidance outlining the specific transport requirements for
the Pfizer vaccine were released early January 2021. This means that
like the Moderna vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can now be brought
directly to the places where identified key populations
(Health Canada) live. This includes places like long-term care homes,
retirement homes, and congregate care settings, as well as rural and
remote locations. Specific transportation requirements have been provided by the Ministry of Health to ensure that the vaccine is moved safely.
COVID-19 Vaccine Resources
Government of Ontario
Ministry of Health and Ministry of Long-Term Care
This link summarizes several PDFs available for download including
those that provide information on COVID-19 vaccines in general,
availability and rollout of the vaccine, and what to do after receiving
the vaccine. Recommendations for special populations and information
about vaccine storage are also available.
Government of Canada
National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI)
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)
Product Specific Resources
Timiskaming Health Unit Resources
Resources with more information:
WHO Let’s flatten the infodemic curve
Youtube video explaining mRNA vaccines
Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority COVID-19 Vaccine Whiteboard video: (Facebook link)
PHO COVID-19 AEFI report
Recent Vitamin D update