COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

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B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan happens in four phases. We are now in Phase 3.

phase 3

Register when it’s your turn, book an appointment and get the vaccine. Go here for more information. 

Registration, Clinics & Phases

How do I get my COVID-19 vaccine?

 

There are three steps to get vaccinated

Step 1: Register

  • When you submit your information, you receive a confirmation number. Do not lose the number. This number makes it easier when you book your vaccination appointment.
  • Registering also helps health authorities request the right amount of vaccine doses for each community.
  • You can register for yourself or for someone else, like a parent or grandparent. Everyone 18 and older in B.C. is eligible to get vaccinated, even if you don’t have a Personal Health Number or other documentation.
  • We protect all information we collect and public health will never share your information with any other agencies or parts of government. We will never ask you for your SIN, driver's licence number or banking and credit card details. 
Registration is currently open for:
  • People born in 1971 or earlier (50+)
  • Indigenous peoples born in 2003 or earlier (18+)
  • People who are clinically extremely vulnerable
Upcoming Registration dates:
  • People born in 1976 or earlier (age 45+) - April 16 at 12 pm.
  • People born in 1981 or earlier (age 40+) - April 19 at 12 pm.

Three Ways to Register

Register online (Personal Health Number required)
  • Go to https://getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca/
  • You can register 24 hours a day.
  • To register online, you must provide:
    • First and last name
    • Date of birth
    • Postal code
    • Personal Health Number
    • An email address that gets checked regularly or a phone number that can receive text messages
    • Find your Personal Health Number on the back of your B.C. driver's licence or BC Services Card. 
Register by phone (Personal Health Number not required)
Call: 1-833-838-2323 | Translators are available
Seven days a week, 7 am to 7 pm (PDT)
Please only call when you are also eligible to book an appointment.
Our call centre can also help if you feel more comfortable registering over the phone.
Register at a Service BC office (Personal Health Number not required)
You can register in-person at all Service BC offices. 
Office hours vary by location. Check before you go. 
Please only register at a Service BC office when you are also eligible to book an appointment.

 


Step 2: Book an appointment

  • You will be contacted to book a vaccine appointment when you are eligible based on your age and our Immunization Plan phases.
  • You will book your appointment online or by phone. You will select a location, date and time.
  • Booking invitations are currently being sent for:
    • People born in 1957 or earlier (64+)
    • Indigenous people born in 2003 or earlier (18+)
    • People who are clinically extremely vulnerable

 


Step 3: Get the vaccine

  • Visit the vaccine clinic to get your vaccine dose.
  • People who get their first vaccine dose will be notified by email, text or phone call when they are eligible to book an appointment for their second dose.
  • You will not miss your chance to the get the vaccine when a new phase starts. Once you become eligible, you are always eligible. For example:
    • If you are in Phase 2, you can get the vaccine in Phase 3 or Phase 4
    • If you are in Phase 3, you can get the vaccine in Phase 4

Immunization clinics

Immunization clinics are being organized in 172 communities in B.C and will be overseen by your local health authority. Immunization clinics details will be available before Phase 3 of B.C.'s Immunization Plan. The clinics will be held at large centres including:

  • School gymnasiums
  • Arenas
  • Convention halls
  • Community halls
  • Mobile clinics will be available for some rural communities and for people who are homebound due to mobility issues.
Phase 1: December 2020 to February 2021
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
  • Individuals assessed for and awaiting long-term care
  • Residents and staff of assisted living residences
  • Essential visitors to long-term care facilities and assisted living residences
  • Hospital health care workers who may provide care for COVID-19 patients in settings like Intensive Care Units, emergency departments, paramedics, medical units and surgical units
  • Remote and isolated Indigenous communities
Phase 2: February to April 2021

 

1. Public health immunization clinics

  • Seniors born in 1941 or earlier not immunized in Phase 1
  • Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) peoples born in 1966 or earlier, Elders and additional Indigenous communities not immunized in Phase 1
  • In certain remote communities, the timelines for phases maybe modified. Please check your local health authority for most accurate information for your community.

2. Priority groups (no call-in required)

  • Hospital staff, community general practitioners (GPs) and medical specialists not immunized in Phase 1
  • Vulnerable populations living and working in select congregated settings
  • Staff in community home support and nursing services
Phase 3: March/April to May 2021

People aged 79 to 60, in five year increments.

  • People aged 79 to 60, in five year increments:
    • 79 to 75 (D1 March)
    • 74 to 70 (D1 April)
    • 69 to 65 (D1 April/May)
    • 64 to 60 (D1 April/May)
  • Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) peoples aged 64 to 18 (D1 April)
  • People aged 69 to 16 who are clinically extremely vulnerable (D1 March/April)
Phase 4: May to June 2021
People aged 59 to 18, in five year increments:
  • 59 to 55 (D1 May)
  • 54 to 50 (D1 May)
  • 49 to 45 (D1 May)
  • 44 to 40 (D1 May/June)
  • 39 to 35 (D1 May/June)
  • 34 to 30 (D1 June)
  • 29 to 25 (D1 June)
  • 24 to 18 (D1 June)

 

The scheduling of groups for vaccination may change based on vaccine availability and transmission. This information is on the BCCDC eligibility page.


 

There are also additional rollout programs:

COVID-19 Vaccines in Pharmacies/Get the AstraZeneca vaccine
People aged 55 and older in government selected communities can get the AstraZeneca COVISHIELD vaccine at eligible pharmacies with vaccine supply. Find an eligible pharmacy near you.
  • Some locations may allow for drop-in service.
  • You will be required to bring your Personal Health Number, located on your CareCard or BC Services Card
Priority groups not listed above
In BC, there are a variety of people who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine based on their type of work or where they live. For example:
  • A senior or high-risk person living in independent living or in a senior’s supportive housing setting
  • Staff in independent living or senior’s supportive housing
  • Home-care support clients and staff
  • People identified as essential visitors in a long term care facility
  • Health care workers who work in higher risk settings
For these groups, immunization is arranged between the employer/facility and the local health authority.
 
Frontline Priority Workers

BC has also identified the following groups as front-line priority workers that can receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine was to be used for this priority group. However, currently the use of AstraZeneca vaccine has been suspended until further notice for people under age 55, based on guidance from Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Until further notice, the vaccine rollout for these groups is being paused. People in these groups that qualify under the age-based phases can receive the vaccine by registering.

Front-line priority workers identified by the COVID-19 Workplace Task Group and public health include:

  • First responders (police, firefighters, emergency transport)
  • K to 12 educational staff
  • Child care staff
  • Grocery store workers
  • Postal workers
  • Bylaw and quarantine officers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Wholesale/warehousing employees
  • Staff living in congregate housing at places like ski hills
  • Correctional facilities staff
  • Cross-border transport staff
  • Sectors or settings prioritized due to outbreak response (currently happening)
 

 

Is there a waiting list or a standby list to get the vaccine?
For clarity:
  • Waiting list: A list of people who are interested in getting the vaccine, who will be contacted when they are able to register and book their vaccine appointment.
  • Standby list: A list for people who are able to come in at the last minute if someone on the waiting list has suddenly cancelled or moved their scheduled appointment.
BC’s COVID-19 Public Phase Based Immunization Plan 
 
The registration process for the public rollout is in some ways a waiting list already. Once you register, you will be contacted again when you are eligible to book your appointment.
 
However, the public rollout does not have a standby list. When there is an unexpected cancellation, these clinics reach out to health care workers etc. that have been pre-arranged to get vaccinated. Please do not wait outside vaccination clinics if you are not scheduled to get a vaccine. 
 
Pharmacy based vaccine rollout
 
Some pharmacies in BC may have a waiting list for their COVID-19 vaccines. Some may also offer a standby list. Please contact the pharmacies that are administering the COVID-19 vaccine for information on how they are distributing the vaccine.
 
Will I be able to choose which brand and type of COVID-19 vaccine that I want to receive? Can I pick the best, most effective vaccine?

 

As Dr. Henry has said, “The vaccine you are offered is the best vaccine. All of the vaccines that we have available for use in Canada are safe and effective, and [even] a single dose provides good protection from all of them.”
 
While there are many different brands of COVID-19 vaccines at this point, just like other vaccines, you cannot choose the specific brand you get. What we can say is that just like all other vaccines, the one offered to you is the best one based on a variety of factors, including what products are available; what product is approved for your age or health conditions; allergies to any of the vaccine ingredients; your location and whether the vaccine can be delivered there, and more. There is no single person or organization that decides what vaccine you will receive - it is based on a variety of factors.
 
There are of course differences between vaccine brands. You may even have a preference based on your comfort level or other considerations. You can learn more about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness by clicking here. However, what we can say is that what is offered to you is the best one to keep you safe and protected as soon as possible, for as long as possible.
 
Once the vaccine is offered to you, you can in theory delay your vaccination and hope that a different vaccine is available at a later date. However, there is no guarantee that you will get a specific brand of vaccine later. As the circumstances around the COVID-19 vaccines change frequently, you will not know which brand you are getting until you arrive at the vaccination site. Furthermore, refusing a vaccine on the day would cause a burden on the vaccination campaign as well. This is because vaccines require preparations before they are given to people (such as bringing it to the proper temperature), and it cannot be re-refrigerated once that is done. In order to make sure that the vaccine does not go to waste, the clinic immunizers would have to spend time to make adjustments. As well, clinic organizers bring amounts of vaccine based on the number of people with appointments.
 
Delaying the vaccine is not recommended as the longer you wait, the longer you remain unprotected and prolong your risk of getting COVID-19. Evidence for all of the vaccines found them to be highly effective against COVID-19 based on clinical trials with tens of thousands of participants. The sooner that a large proportion of the population is immunized, the sooner we can lift the restrictions that are in place to protect us.
 
Which age group do I fit in? My birthday this year puts me in a different group depending on the time of year (e.g. 39 in March, but 40 in April).

 

Eligibility is based on the age you are turning this year, in 2021. So, for example, if you are 79 and turning 80 in 2021, you are considered 80 and would fit in Phase 2. If you are 59 and turning 60 in 2021, you are considered 60 and in phase 3. Information about the different age groups can be found on the Government of BC website. Check the Government of BC website regularly.
 
Please note that previously the AstraZeneca rollout in pharmacies used a different age/eligibility criteria. Eligibility/age has been updated to be based on birth year for all programs.
I am concerned I have a disease/illness that makes me more at-risk for COVID-19 (like diabetes). Will I get the vaccine before others? When can I expect to get the vaccine?
People aged 16 to 74 who are clinically extremely vulnerable and have received their patient invitation letter can get vaccinated. You can book a vaccine appointment for yourself or have a family member or friend call for you. People on the clinically extremely vulnerable list include diabetics on insulin.
 
If you're on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, you will receive a patient invitation letter. The letter will be mailed to your home address on file with your Personal Health Number. 
 
Why isn’t my medical condition included?
The list of eligible conditions and supporting clinical guidance was carefully developed with input from over 60 specialists and family doctors around the province. Expert physicians and providers in cancer care, kidney diseases and other immunocompromised conditions worked with public health and international COVID-19 data to define B.C.’s clinically extremely vulnerable list. Pediatricians were included to review relevant information for youth aged 16 to 19. The work was supported by an ethics expert to make sure the list is as fair and equitable as possible.
 
We recognize that not all medical conditions are included on the clinically extremely vulnerable list. The list identifies conditions that are the strongest drivers of hospitalization and mortality risk. If you have questions about your medical condition and COVID-19 immunization, contact your doctor or primary care provider.
I am part of the clinically extremely vulnerable category for the COVID-19 vaccine. When will I get a patient invitation letter? How do I book my appointment?
People aged 16 to 74 who are on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, will receive a patient invitation letter. The letter will be mailed to your home address on file with your Personal Health Number (found on the back of your B.C. driver's licence, BC Services Card or CareCard). 
  • Letters will be mailed starting March 24 and should arrive by April 15.
  • Do not call before March 29. Your health authority phone number can be found on page 1 of your patient invitation letter.
Starting March 29, you can call your health authority to book a vaccine appointment. You can book a vaccine appointment for yourself or have a family member or friend call for you. Before you call, we recommend you review information from the BC Centre for Disease Control on the planning, timing and safety of the vaccine with consideration of your health condition.
 
You will be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine dose. A choice will not be offered between the two brands unless you have a contraindication to one of the vaccines.
I am part of the clinically extremely vulnerable category and did not receive a patient invitation letter by April 15th. What do I do to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment?
If you're on the clinically extremely vulnerable list and you haven't received your patient invitation letter by April 15, it may be because:
  • You recently moved to B.C.
  • You had a treatment in another province
  • You don't get medication through the BC PharmaNet system
  • Your home address on file is outdated
Starting April 15, you can try booking an appointment using the online Get Vaccinated registration and booking tool or call centre. Using your Personal Health Number, the registration system or phone agent will confirm if you're eligible.
 
If the registration system doesn't confirm your eligibility and you believe you should be included on the clinically extremely vulnerable list, contact your doctor or primary care provider. They will help you. 
 

Please note that the circumstances around COVID-19 vaccines in BC are changing regularly, so this information may change.

Do I have to go to a clinic to get vaccinated, or can they come to me? Will there be mobile clinics for people with accessibility issues or people who live in remote areas?

When you book your appointment, please mention any mobility issues you may have. 

Currently, there are limited locations across B.C. that are administering COVID-19 vaccines. Phase 1 and 2 vaccinations are being done at these limited locations with a few exceptions. As we move into more phases, more immunization clinics are being added. Immunization clinics are being organized in 172 communities in B.C and will be overseen by your local health authority. More immunization clinic details will be available before Phase 3 of B.C.'s Immunization Plan. The clinics will be held at large centres including:

  • School gymnasiums
  • Arenas
  • Convention halls
  • Community halls
  • Mobile clinics in self-contained vehicles will be available for some rural communities and for people who are homebound due to mobility issues.
Community pharmacies are also being utilized in select regions to help get vaccines to British Columbians. Currently, pharmacies are only offering the AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 55+, but this program is expanding to include more regions and more eligible people. You can find more information on the pharmacy-based rollout and participating pharmacies here.
 

Please note that the circumstances around COVID-19 vaccines in BC are changing regularly, so this information may change.

My job puts me at higher risk of getting COVID-19. Will I get the vaccine earlier than other people?
BC has identified the following groups as front-line priority workers that can receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine was to be used for this priority group. However, currently the use of AstraZeneca vaccine has been suspended until further notice for people under age 55, based on guidance from Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Until further notice, the vaccine rollout for these groups is being paused. People in these groups that qualify under the age-based phases can receive the vaccine by registering.
 
Front-line priority workers identified by the COVID-19 Workplace Task Group and public health include:
 
  • First responders (police, firefighters, emergency transport)
  • K to 12 educational staff
  • Child care staff
  • Grocery store workers
  • Postal workers
  • Bylaw and quarantine officers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Wholesale/warehousing employees
  • Staff living in congregate housing at places like ski hills
  • Correctional facilities staff
  • Cross-border transport staff
  • Sectors or settings prioritized due to outbreak response (currently happening)

 

I live with someone/take care of someone who can get vaccinated earlier than me. Can I get the vaccine at the same time as them?

As of right now, B.C. has a limited number of vaccines. As such, the vaccines available are reserved for only those people who are eligible. 

Please note that the circumstances around COVID-19 vaccines in BC are changing regularly, so this information may change.

 

I qualify under the Provincial Health Officer Order to administer the COVID-19 vaccine (e.g. Retired nurses, physicians etc). I am interested in becoming a COVID-19 immunizer. How do I apply?

If you are part of a profession that normally provides immunizations (e.g. RNs and physicians) or from a profession that has been temporarily given additional capabilities under the Provincial Health Officer Order, register here. 

 

Safety, Allergies & Side Effects

I’ve had reactions to a vaccine before. Is it safe for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Do I need to get the vaccine in a special location, like a hospital?

Nearly everyone will be able to safely receive the vaccine, although a very small number of people may need to avoid vaccination due to severe allergies to parts of the vaccine. 

There are very few reasons someone should not get the COVID-19 vaccine. You should not get the vaccine if you:

  • Have serious allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines. An ingredient in the mRNA vaccines that have been associated with a rare but serious allergy (anaphylaxis) is polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG can be found in some cosmetics, skincare products, laxatives, some processed foods and drinks and other products. Note: PEG is not in the AstraZeneca vaccine and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 
  • An ingredient in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that has been associated with a rare but serious allergy is Polysorbate 80 – It is also found in medical preparations (e.g., vitamin oils, tablets and anticancer agents) and cosmetics.
  • Have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or to any part of the vaccine.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you have had an anaphylactic reaction but do not know the cause.

Serious life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines (anaphylaxis) are extremely rare - much rarer than people think. Anaphylaxis is preventable in many cases and treatable in all cases. All immunizing healthcare providers in BC are required to be trained and actively watch for and treat anaphylaxis immediately. For those with allergies, your healthcare provider may ask you to wait for a longer period of time (for example, 30 minutes). Rarely, based on the recommendations of an allergist and Medical Health Officer, a person may receive a vaccine in a hospital setting.

I have mild to severe allergies - is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? What if I have allergies to antibiotics or other medicines? Do I need to get the vaccine in a special location, like a hospital?

There is a lot of misinformation out there that anyone with any allergies whatsoever should not get the vaccine. This is not the case. Nearly everyone will be able to safely receive the vaccine, although a very small number of people may need to avoid vaccination due to severe allergies to parts of the vaccine. While the vaccine manufacturers identify a number of precautions because these populations were not included in the original vaccine trials, in the context of the ongoing risk of COVID-19, most individuals can be offered vaccination.

Look at the COVID-19 vaccine ingredient lists and see if you are allergic to any part of the COVID-19 vaccines. Most importantly, make sure that your healthcare provider knows about your allergies before you get any vaccine. There are very few reasons someone should not get the COVID-19 vaccine.

You should not get the vaccine if you:

  • Have serious allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines. An ingredient in the mRNA vaccines that have been associated with a rare but serious allergy (anaphylaxis) is polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG can be found in some cosmetics, skincare products, laxatives, some processed foods and drinks and other products. Note: PEG is not in the AstraZeneca vaccine and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
  • An ingredient in the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that has been associated with a rare but serious allergy is Polysorbate 80 – It is also found in medical preparations (e.g., vitamin oils, tablets and anticancer agents) and cosmetics.
  • Have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or to any part of the vaccine.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you have had an anaphylactic reaction but do not know the cause

Serious, life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines (anaphylaxis) are extremely rare - much rarer than people think. Anaphylaxis is preventable in many cases and treatable in all cases. All immunizing healthcare providers in BC are required to be trained and actively watch for and treat anaphylaxis immediately. For those with allergies, our healthcare provider may ask you to wait for a longer period of time (for example, 30 minutes). Rarely, based on the recommendations of an allergist and Medical Health Officer, a person may receive a vaccine in a hospital setting.

What are the ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccines?

There are currently five vaccines approved in Canada, so we can only speak to the ingredients in these vaccines.

As more vaccines are approved, their ingredient lists will be available on this Health Canada COVID-19 vaccine page.

What are the common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? If I have a side effect do I need to report it?

It is normal and expected to have common reactions after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine. These do not need to be reported. Please read about the common expected reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine in the BCCDC vaccine aftercare sheet.

Common side effects:

  • May include pain, redness, swelling and itchiness where the vaccine was given.
  • Some people experience local injection site reactions within 1-2 days after the vaccine, and other people experience local injection site reactions starting a week or more after they get the vaccine.
  • Local injection site reactions are a normal part of your body’s immune response to the vaccine and will resolve within a few days. A cool, damp cloth or wrapped ice pack where the vaccine was given may help.
  • These local injection reactions will go away on their own; however you may feel unwell for a day or two. If you are unable to carry on with your regular activities because of these symptoms, you can take medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Check with your health care provider if you need advice about medication.

Other side effects may include:

  • Tiredness, headache, fever, chills, muscle or joint soreness, nausea and vomiting.
  • These side effects will go away on their own; however you may feel unwell for a day or two. If you are unable to carry on with your regular activities because of these side effects, you can take medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Check with your health care provider if you need advice about medication.

COVID-19 vaccine side effects vs. COVID-19 symptoms

  • The vaccine is not a live virus vaccine, and cannot cause COVID-19.
  • Some of the side effects of the vaccine are similar to symptoms of COVID-19 infection. However, side effects from the vaccine should only last a day or two and go away on their own.
  • Symptoms such as cough or other respiratory symptoms are not side effects of the vaccine and are more likely to be due to a respiratory infection like COVID-19. Use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool if you experience any symptoms compatible with COVID-19 infection, including respiratory symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, shortness of breath, etc.) or any symptoms listed above, with the exception of local injection site reactions. This will let you know if you need to get tested for COVID-19.

Reporting adverse events following immunization
If you have concerns about any symptoms you develop after receiving the vaccine, speak with your healthcare provider or call 8-1-1 for advice. To report a potential adverse event following immunization with the COVID-19 vaccine, contact the immunization provider that gave you the COVID-19 vaccine. You can also contact your local health unit and ask to speak to a public health nurse.

 

Are there long-term side effects caused by mRNA COVID-19 vaccines? How do we know?

While it’s difficult to definitively say whether or not there are long-term side-effects, the medical and scientific community is confident in the long-term safety of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the USA  Centers for Disease Control, “Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine." In addition, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells. Decades of studying mRNA have shown no long-term side-effects.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the vaccine is not expected to have long-term negative effects for a few reasons:

  • First, most negative effects occur within 6 weeks of receiving a vaccine, which is why the FDA asked the companies to provide 8 weeks of safety data after the last dose.
  • Second, the mRNA in the vaccine breaks down pretty quickly because our cells need a way to stop mRNA from making too many proteins or too much protein.
  • But, even if for some reason our cells did not break down the vaccine mRNA, the mRNA stops making the protein within about a week, regardless of the body’s immune response to the protein.

In addition, the medical and scientific community is confident in the vaccine’s long-term safety, because of the track record of Canada's vaccine approval and B.C.'s safety monitoring system. Overall, this means that the end data and safety tests are exactly the same as other vaccines that have been approved in Canada. The safety monitoring system in Canada happens both passively and actively.

  • Passive safety monitoring happens when anyone with a significant reaction to any vaccine reports it to their healthcare provider which is then reported to the BCCDC, Health Canada and all the way up to the World Health Organization. This information is shared globally in a timely way to flag for other countries any emerging and urgent concerns.
  • An example of active safety monitoring is the nurses across Canada who are actively reviewing patients’ charts as part of the IMPACT (Immunization Monitoring Program ACTive). This is a pediatric hospital-based national active surveillance network for adverse events in children following immunization, vaccine failures and selected infectious diseases that are, or will be, vaccine-preventable. 

Canada’s system has proven time and again that the data necessary to get through the approval process is sufficient to prove safety, even for the long-term.

 

I am recovering from an illness and/or my partner is recovering from an illness (like shingles or chickenpox). When will it be safe for me to get the vaccine?

In general, it is safe for you to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even if you are recovering from an illness (e.g., shingles), but:

  • If you have a new illness preventing you from performing your regular activities, you should wait to get immunized until you have recovered. This will help to distinguish potential side effects of the vaccine from worsening of your other illness.‎
  • Also, waiting, till you are recovered from an infectious illness like chickenpox (an illness that can spread from person to person) ensures that you’re not putting others at risk of infection when you come for your vaccine.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should stay home from the vaccine clinic and use the COVID-19 self-assessment tool to determine if you need to be tested. 

 

How long after COVID-19 is it safe to get vaccinated? I had COVID-19 but now I am feeling better. Should I still get vaccinated? Do I have to get a COVID-19 antibody test before I go for my vaccine?

People who are sick with COVID-19 should wait until they have recovered from acute illness and public health has told them they no longer need to isolate. It is important that you wait the full isolation period before getting the vaccine so that you do not expose people at your vaccination clinic to the virus.

If you had COVID-19 you should still get the vaccine once you have recovered. This is because you may not be immune to the virus that causes COVID-19 and you could get infected again. You do not need to get a COVID-19 antibody test before getting your vaccine.

However, as vaccine quantities are currently limited, those who tested positive for COVID-19 within the last three months are expected to have protection for the short term and can have their COVID-19 vaccination deferred.

Do people who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding have safety concerns with the vaccine?

The Canadian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (SOGC), the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and public health experts in B.C. all advise that pregnant and breastfeeding women can be offered the vaccine. If you have questions, and you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding, speak to your health care provider about COVID-19 vaccines.

 

Is it safe for me to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I am immunocompromised from treatment or illness? What if I have an autoimmune disease?

Nearly everyone will be able to safely receive the vaccine, although a very small number of people may need to avoid vaccination due to severe allergies to parts of the vaccine. Vaccine manufacturers identify a number of precautions because these populations were not included in the original vaccine trials. In the context of the ongoing risk of COVID-19, most individuals can be offered vaccination: 

  • Weakened immune systems. COVID-19 vaccines are not live vaccines, and there are no significant concerns about safety for those with weakened immune systems. It is possible that the vaccine may not work as expected in people who have a weakened immune system. If you have questions and have a weakened immune system, speak to your healthcare provider about the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Autoimmune diseases. If you have questions and have an autoimmune disease, speak to your healthcare provider or medical specialist.

 

 

Dose schedule & timing with other vaccines

Is it ok to get other vaccinations around the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine? Can I get a different vaccination in between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines should not be given at the same time as other vaccines. There should be a period of 14 days on either side of your COVID-19 vaccination where you do not receive other immunizations. However, if a COVID-19 vaccine is given at the same time or within 14 days of another vaccine, neither dose should be repeated. Attempts should be made to schedule other vaccines where possible 14 days before or after each dose of COVID-19 vaccination.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine still work if there is a longer time between doses? How do we know that 4 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:

 

After the vaccine

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines? How long does the immunity to COVID-19 last after getting the vaccine? If a vaccine has 95% efficacy, what happens to the people who are the other 5%? Do they have no immunity at all?

How our immune system works

Our immune systems don’t work like a light switch that goes simply on or off. Think of it more like a dimmer switch. With dimmer switches, the switch can go all the way up, but it can also go somewhere in between fully bright and completely off. If you stopped the switch in the middle, it’s not off - you can still see, but it is dim. 

The immune system is in many ways similar to the dimmer switch. When you are vaccinated, the switch to make antibodies in your body is slowly turned up and more and more antibodies get made. Antibodies are what give you immunity.

A vaccine with 95% efficacy means that in the clinical trials, 95% of people had full protection after getting the vaccine. This doesn’t mean that the other 5% did not get any protection. It just means that their immune system “dimmer switch” got partially there, and that without the vaccine there would have been zero protection. Their body made antibodies, but not enough to be considered fully protected.

However, when it comes to COVID-19 we also don’t know the number of antibodies needed to be considered fully protected. We are currently using our best estimate, based on what we know about our bodies. This is not new. We have seen this with other vaccines before, such as the MMR vaccine. With the MMR vaccine, studies later revealed that when we gave everyone two doses one month apart almost 100% of people were actually fully protected.

In fact, studies in the real world - including the recently published UK study on 7.5 million older adults - shows that there is comparable effectiveness of the AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) COVID-19 vaccine to the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. All of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved in Canada provide excellent protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

Clinical Trial Results

Clinical trials are not all the same, and cannot be compared to each other. 

In the clinical trials, both mRNA vaccines were about 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 after receiving two doses. Protection, beginning 14 days after one dose of either vaccine, is greater than 90 percent. The duration of protection is not yet known for one or two doses of the vaccine but is being actively monitored. In general, some vaccines provide lifelong immunity, while others such as tetanus only work for 10 years.

In the clinical trials, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was about 62% effective in preventing symptomatic disease starting 2 weeks after the second dose. However, AstraZeneca confirms 100% protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death in the primary analysis of their Phase III trials. 

In the clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine was about 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 and 100% effective in preventing COVID-19–related hospitalization and death after receiving one dose.

Do these clinical trial statistics mean that one vaccine is more effective than the others? No. These were not head to head trials, and so cannot be directly compared. There is no need to worry about differences in either effectiveness or safety of these vaccines when your turn to be immunized comes up.

Long Term Immunity

We don't currently know how long immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines lasts, but the research is ongoing. COVID-19 vaccine trial participants continue to be monitored so we will learn more. However, we do know that right now we can safely reduce the risks of COVID-19 disease by getting vaccinated.

The degree to which these vaccines protect against COVID-19 one or two years after vaccination will be determined in the future, and public health experts will recommend whether booster shots are needed as we get more information.

I’m not vaccinated but my family member/friend is, can we spend time together? Once I’m vaccinated, do I still have to worry about public health measures like wearing a mask and social distancing?

‎Everyone who receives the vaccine will still need to follow public health guidance and follow orders from the Provincial Health Officer. After you get a vaccine, it will still be extremely important to continue to practice all the preventive measures that have been recommended, including washing your hands, maintaining a safe physical distance, wearing a mask, and staying home when sick. There are several reasons this is important:

  • It takes about 2 weeks for your body to gain protection from the COVID-19 vaccine. This means that if you contracted COVID-19 before getting the vaccine, or within the 2 week period following the vaccine, you may still get sick from COVID-19. So if you experience symptoms of COVID-19 after you’ve been vaccinated, use the BC self-assessment tool to determine if you need to be tested.
  • The vaccine won’t stop everyone from getting COVID-19. For those who do get the virus, it is less likely you will experience severe illness.
  • The available vaccines are highly effective, but you could be in the small number of people that don’t have immunity. You can still spread COVID-19 if you touch things and don’t wash your hands or interact with people in close proximity.
  • After receiving your COVID-19 vaccine, be sure to keep a copy of your immunization record. By registering for Health Gateway, you will be able to access a digital copy of your COVID-19 vaccine record. The Health Gateway is a single place for BC residents to access their health records.

As things change, public health measures will be updated and adjusted. It is important to keep following public health recommendations.
 

 

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Date last updated: 
Wednesday, Apr 14, 2021
Date last reviewed: 
Wednesday, Apr 14, 2021