COVID-19 vaccines have started to arrive in Canada, and Canadians — understandably — have lots of questions. These vaccines will be a key way out of our epidemic (the wide spread of the COVID-19 virus in Canada) in the coming months, but they are not the only protection strategy we must focus on.
Here are five of the most important things we know about COVID-19 and vaccination right now:
1) The vaccines are safe.
The vaccines approved for use in Canada work by stimulating our body’s natural immune response. Health Canada has conducted a rigorous scientific review of the available medical evidence to assess the safety of the vaccines, and no major safety concerns have been identified. As of March 2021, more than 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide.
2) The vaccines work.
We know that all the approved vaccines are excellent in protecting us from getting COVID-19, so the best vaccine is the one that is in your arm soonest. Most importantly, all of the vaccines prevent us from getting very sick from COVID-19 – results that are as good as the best vaccines we have for preventing harm from any disease. The vaccines also likely help prevent us from spreading COVID-19 to our loved ones and those around us, although studies are ongoing. This level of efficacy will play a major role in helping slow spread and move us towards a post-pandemic Canada. Scientists continue to monitor how long immunity lasts and how effective the vaccines are for the emerging variants; like the flu shot, it is possible we will need to update our COVID-19 vaccines year-to-year to give our bodies the best protection possible.
3) The vaccines are appropriate for most Canadians.
Different vaccines have different age inclusion groups, based on the data from the trials. People who have had COVID-19 infection should still be vaccinate, but there is no data yet on the COVID-19 vaccines’ safety in people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised, although studies are ongoing. People who are in these categories should have a discussion with their health professional around getting the vaccine.
4) The Canadians who are most likely to get sick from or spread COVID-19 will be vaccinated first.
Canada’s goal is to vaccinate every eligible person by the end of September 2021. Each province will release its own detailed prioritization plan, but in general, older adults and those at high risk of getting sick or transmitting the virus will be vaccinated before others. It will take some time to vaccinate enough of our fellow Canadians to achieve shared protection through herd immunity, which is why it is crucial to continue following public health guidance regarding masking and distance until the COVID-19 virus is no longer prevalent in our communities – even after we are immunized.
5) It is more important than ever to be diligent about safety
Although we have begun to vaccinate Canadians, cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are high nationwide. There are also emerging variants of COVID-19 like B.1.1.7, originally identified in the United Kingdom, which are thought to be significantly more transmissible. The good news is that our safety layers work if we use them diligently and in combination. Think of Swiss cheese: each individual layer of protection has limitations, or holes, like a slice of Swiss cheese. But if we stack our layers of Swiss cheese, we can be more confident that we are preventing spread, keeping our loved ones and communities safe. With that in mind, it is more important than ever that we keep practicing all of the steps we know well: staying home when possible, physical distancing, using a well-fitting mask at all times (even when distanced), good ventilation, hand hygiene, and downloading Canada’s COVID Alert app. Together, we can all contribute to moving Canada toward a post-pandemic era.
If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Government of Canada website or connect with your trusted health professional.
This article was published on February 25th, 2021 and revised on March 7th, 2021. All the information included reflects the reality as of these dates, but please note that the COVID-19 situation, and the related vaccination campaign and research, is constantly evolving. Please refer to your municipal, provincial and federal updates for the most up to date developments on the COVID-19 vaccine.
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