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:
- COVID-19 How vaccines are developed (Health Canada)
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:
- How does the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine work? (Ottawa Public Health)
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.