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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 infection.

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 new strain?

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 clinic site.

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 care provider.

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 Moderna vaccine.

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 preventing spread.

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

Provincial 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.

Federal Resources

Government of Canada

National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI)

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Product Specific Resources

Video Resources

Downloadable 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