IMMUNIZATIONS Q + A
- How does the vaccine work?
- The vaccine enables our body to produce protection (such as antibodies) against the COVID-19 virus. This immune response protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. The vaccine uses a new method (messenger RNA – mRNA, the genetic code for a capsule protein of the virus) to help our bodies make protection against the virus. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
- Is the vaccine safe?
- The COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by Health Canada are safe, effective and will save lives. Canada has one of the most rigorous regulatory systems to authorize new vaccines for use. Health Canada’s authority ensures:
- Laboratory and clinical studies provide evidence of product safety and effectiveness
- Manufacturing process meets a high standard
- The product meets the highest standards of quality
During vaccine development, vaccines are first tested in animals before testing in humans. Testing in humans is done over three phases of clinical trials. These clinical trials provide crucial information on vaccine safety and effectiveness. Once a vaccine is approved and in use, vaccine safety is continuously monitored to identify serious side effects.
- How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is given by an injection (Pfizer: 0.3 mL, Moderna: 0.5mL) into the muscle of the arm. Both vaccines are given as a 2-dose series.
- How well will the vaccine protect me?
- Results from the clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine have shown to provide 95% protection against COVID infection, seven days after the second dose. In those 65 years of age and older, vaccine efficacy is above 94%. Clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine have shown to be 94.1% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 beginning two weeks after the second dose. For both vaccines, clinical trials show a high degree of protection approximately 14 days after the first dose, before the second dose is given. The second dose is a booster dose to ensure long term protection.
- When will I get vaccinated?
- Vaccine is being administered through a phased approach developed by the Ministry of Health, starting with priority groups first. Sequencing of these groups is based on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and on our own epidemiological data to reduce the risk of infection to those most vulnerable to severe disease and death following COVID-19 infection, and to protect our health care system. This includes residents and all staff working in long-term care, as well as health-care workers in certain acute care settings providing care for COVID-19 patients. More vaccine arrives every week, and we know and appreciate that healthcare workers in VCH are among the initial priority groups for vaccination in the coming weeks, so be assured that all who want to be vaccinated, will be vaccinated, as soon as possible.
- What are the first groups to be vaccinated?
- The Ministry of Health has announced the first groups to get vaccinated, starting in the period between December and March are:
- Residents, staff and essential visitors to long-term care and assisted-living residences
- Individuals in hospital or community awaiting a long-term care placement
- Healthcare workers providing care for COVID-19 patients in settings like Intensive Care Units, emergency departments, medical/surgical units and paramedics
- Remote and isolated Indigenous communities
People living in shelters and people experiencing homelessness; people living in other congregate settings
Seniors 80 years of age and older, and Indigenous seniors and Elders 65 years of age and older
- How will I be notified when it’s my turn to be vaccinated?
- Your manager, supervisor, medical department head, or director of care will notify you when it’s your turn to be vaccinated. You will also receive an email notification via your PHC email address. If you work off-site, please ensure your contact information is up to date with current email address and phone number.
- Once I get vaccinated, how long do I have to adhere to physical distancing and other measures?
- Provincial orders and guidelines remain in place for everyone, regardless if they have received the vaccine. After immunizations begin, it will still be important to wash your hands, adhere to physical distancing guidelines, wear a mask, and stay home when sick. These layers of protection are still essential as vaccines roll out.
- Once vaccinated, will I still have to self-isolate after international travel, or if I’ve been identified as a close contact?
- Federal and provincial orders and guidelines remain in place for everyone, regardless if they have received the vaccine.
- Do I have to continue wearing PPE after I’m vaccinated?
- Recipients of the vaccine must continue to follow all Infection Prevention and Control guidelines while at work. While vaccination is very effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, it is not yet known if vaccine recipients can still acquire the virus without symptoms and transmit is to others. Until more is more data is available, vaccine recipients must continue to use PPE while at work.
- Am I required to get vaccinated?
- While recommended, it is not mandatory for staff to receive the vaccine. Feeling worried or hesitant is completely normal when something is new, however we can be reassured that Health Canada has a thorough approval process that ensures the safety of the many vaccines and medicines we take routinely. This rigorous process is used before any vaccines are approved for use in Canada.
- What COVID-19 protocols are in place at clinic locations?
- Your health and safety are important to us and we have COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures and protocols as well as screening at all our clinic spaces. Please do not come to a vaccination clinic if you are feeling unwell or if during the past 14 days:
- You have developed symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough, fever, chills, muscle pain, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea and vomiting, headache, fatigue, runny nose, diarrhea or new loss of taste or smell
- You have been identified as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19
- You have been asked by Public Health to self-isolate
- Are there any side effects?
Health Canada has conducted a rigorous scientific review of the available medical evidence to assess the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. No major safety concerns have been identified. According to Health Canada, the side effects observed during the clinical trials are similar to those reported from other vaccines. The most common side effects are minor pain or swelling at the site of injection. Less commonly, people may experience body chills, feeling tired and feeling feverish. These As with all vaccines, there is a small risk of allergic reaction, which is why vaccine recipients are asked to stay for 15 minutes after vaccination.
The BCCDC has developed a Vaccination Aftercare information sheet on what to expect after your vaccination.
- I have heard stories about vaccine being wasted – has that happened here?
- It is important that we use every available dose of the vaccine to help protect those most at risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19. Once a frozen vial of COVID-19 vaccine has been thawed and reconstituted, it must be used within 6-8 hours. Operations leaders at each vaccination clinic site are identifying additional priority staff who can be called upon to receive any doses still remaining at the end of each day.
- Where can I learn more about the vaccine?
Please visit the following websites for more information on COVID-19 vaccine and how to protect yourself, your family and your community:
- Immunize BC: https://immunizebc.ca/covid-19
- BCCDC COVID-19 vaccine: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/covid-19-va...
- BCCDC COVID-19: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19
- Government of BC COVID-19 vaccines: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-respons...
- Government of Canada COVID-19 vaccine: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/co...
- When will we be able to lift some of the current public health restrictions?
Right now, it is important that we continue to be as committed as ever to following public health orders, even as the vaccination program begins to roll out. The layers of protection that have been in place, such as practicing good hand hygiene, staying home when sick, and maintaining physical distance, are important to stop the spread of COVID-19. These actions continue to be crucial even if you have been vaccinated.
Community (herd) immunity can be reached when a large majority of people in B.C. are immunized against COVID-19. With every person who is immunized, our community is a bit more protected, and that gives us hope that, in the months ahead, we could see the easing of restrictions. By fall 2021, the province is expecting to provide to every person in B.C. the opportunity to be vaccinated, at which point we will hear more about potentially going back to doing many of the things we love. This is dependent, however, on the level of risk the virus poses to our communities at any given time.
In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to learn more about the impact of immunization across the the province will share any updates on lifting restrictions when they can.
- Why has the interval between vaccine doses been extended?
Each vaccine dose reduces the likelihood of severe illness and saves lives, and also increases the protection that our health care system needs, which is why Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has directed that the interval between first and second doses be further extended. Available vaccine is being directed to outbreak sites around the province. This is a temporary approach that will protect as many people as possible from this virus during a time of limited vaccine supply.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second dose to maximize their effectiveness and give longer lasting protection. However, the protection after even a single dose is over 90 per cent, and this protection lasts for at least six weeks. For both approved vaccines, this dosing schedule is within the approved range and has been endorsed by Canada’s National Advisory Committee for Immunization as well as by immunization experts at the World Health Organization.
- In Pfizer’s Phase 3 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, efficacy between the first and second doses was observed to be 52 per cent. Why are health officials in Canada and around the world now saying it’s more than 90 per cent after the first dose?
The phase three trial compared results for people who received two full doses, 21 days apart, against results for people who received a placebo. Although the study was not designed to assess the efficacy of a single-dose regimen, in the 21-day interval between the first and second doses the observed efficacy was 52 per cent.
However, this early protection doesn't take effect until at least day 12 — until then, there was no difference between the two groups. Taking this timing into account, when protection is assessed from 14 days after the first dose, the efficacy of the vaccine jumps up to >90 per cent, because it is not being diluted by the relatively high number of infections before the vaccine begins to have an effect.
AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD
- There are a lot of news reports about the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine. Why is the use of these vaccines being changed?
Canada looks into all reports of adverse events (unexpected medical issues) that occur soon after vaccination with any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines. These systems are set up to find out if there are any rare risks from the vaccines being used that did not get picked up in safety trials. As new information comes in, our vaccination system is updated to ensure everyone’s safety. European reports of rare but serious cases of blood clotting events (vaccine-induced pro-thrombotic immune thrombocytopenia or VIPIT) are a signal for our safety systems.
A detailed assessment is now being done. Until this assessment is complete, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends pausing the use of AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD vaccine in all Canadians younger than 55 years of age. As of March 30, 2021, there are no cases of these blood clotting events reported in Canada.
For more information on the AstraZeneca vaccine, please see this BCCDC FAQ document.
- How will I know when it’s time for my second dose, and where I can go to get it?
- Public Health is tracking who has received vaccine, which kind was administered, and when people will be invited to receive their second dose, but you can help by making a note of your own dates and details, and by being ready when it’s time for your second vaccination.
- Does the COVID-19 vaccine still work if there is a longer time between doses? How do we know that four months between dose 1 and 2 is okay?
- The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) state the following: “experience with other multi-dose vaccinations after a single dose suggest persistent protection could last 6 months or longer in adolescents and adults”
What we know about vaccines in general is that we want to complete the vaccine schedule and get the recommended number of doses. Generally, vaccine manufacturing companies and national vaccine advisory bodies specify a minimum interval between vaccine doses but do not specify maximum intervals.
This is because for most vaccines, antibody levels (immunity) will go down over time and do not suddenly fall below protective levels. Even months or years later, another vaccine dose can boost antibodies (immunity) to higher levels.
In fact, for many vaccines, a longer interval to the booster dose results in higher antibody levels. High antibody levels are associated with longer duration of protection. So this is how we know that the 4 month interval between dose 1 and 2 of the COVID-19 vaccines is okay.
For more information:
- In B.C., while vaccine supplies are limited, the time between first and second dose will be extended so more people can receive their first dose, increasing the benefit of limited vaccine supplies. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization supports this strategy.
- Learn more about the evidence and the decision to defer the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in B.C.
- Source: ImmunizeBC
If you need to reach PHC’s Infection Prevention and Control Team (IPAC), please call local 69357. Do not contact individual IPAC team members.