COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

April 30th, 2021

This week is National Immunization Awareness Week. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand why immunization works and why getting a vaccine is much safer than getting the disease it aims to prevent. This is especially true as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on around us.

Here are some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

Do I really need a vaccine for COVID-19? Can’t I just wait until the virus goes away?

In all likelihood, COVID-19 will never “go away.” People will need to get immunity somehow, and that comes in one of two ways: vaccine or virus.

Building immunity by getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a much safer way to do so than by natural infection. Additionally, by getting vaccinated, you’ll be helping to protect loved ones who cannot yet be vaccinated, or who do not respond well to the vaccine.

As health care workers, we also have a professional and ethical obligation to keep our patients safe and healthy.

Don’t COVID-19 vaccines cause blood clots?

There have been a few instances of rare blood clotting reported in people who received the Astra-Zeneca and Jenssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines. This “rare but serious” condition is referred to as Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT). According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), as of April 20, 2021, there had been three reported cases in Canada following more than 700,000 given doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Officials have emphasized the side effect is ‘vanishingly’ rare and advised that most people still get the shots,” an article from CTV News explains.

Experts agree that the odds of serious side effects (including blood clot development) from contracting COVID-19 are significantly higher, meaning that any vaccine is a safer option than getting sick.

Two of the Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccines—those from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech—use mRNA technology and have not been linked to similar reported blood clots.

mRNA technology? I don’t want that put in my body.

mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that don’t use a weakened or inactivated virus (part of a virus) to trigger an immune response. Instead, these vaccines “teach” our cells how to make the spike protein that will trigger the immune response.

Here are some facts about mRNA vaccines:

  • These vaccines are new, but they have been studied for decades
  • They don’t contain any whole SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19
  • They can’t change your DNA
  • They trigger an immune response like other vaccines and give your body immunity
  • They have gone through appropriate clinical trials and approval process with ongoing monitoring

I’ve already had COVID-19, or I believe I’ve been exposed. Aren’t I immune?

It’s true that if you’ve already had COVID-19, you may have developed some immunity. Although it is unclear how long natural immunity lasts, getting a vaccine when one is available to you can boost your immunity, not weaken it. That will also prevent you from getting sick again for longer.

Additionally, with the new variants of concern prevalent in Canada, there’s a chance that these strains could still make you sick. Variants in Ontario are more transmissible and have higher rates of serious illness and death, including in younger age demographics.

Still, there is evidence to suggest that the vaccines that have been approved so far are effective at preventing serious illness and death.

I’m young and probably won’t be seriously sick or die from COVID-19. Why should I get the vaccine?

While it’s true that older demographics tended to experience more serious outcomes from COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic, the people who are now ending up in hospital are trending younger. The variants of concern are twice as likely to make you seriously ill and one and a half times more likely to result in death.

Additionally, COVID-19 impacts more people than just the one who contracts it. People can spread it to others, workplaces may be forced to close, and critical hospital staff may be forced to stay home. You’re not just getting the COVID-19 vaccine for yourself: you’re getting it for your friends, your family, your coworkers and your community, especially given the limited vaccine supply.

I’ve read that some vaccines are more effective than others. Shouldn’t I get the vaccine that’s most effective?

You may have seen different efficacy numbers reported about different vaccines. Efficacy shows how likely it is that a vaccine will prevent you from getting sick.

All four vaccines that have been approved in Canada improve your immunity and make it less likely that you’ll get sick or die. Preventing cases will help our strained health care system and help prevent the creation and spread of new variants.

On CBC News: The National, Dr. Samir Gupta explains the difference between the efficacy rates and why they aren’t the most important number to look at.

What does one dose do and is there any harm in waiting for the second?

Three of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in Canada—those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca—require two doses for full immunization. The minimum interval between doses for these vaccines range between 19 and 28 days.

In early March 2021, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) extended the window to up to 16 weeks. That decision was based on “emerging evidence of the protection provided by the first dose of a two-dose series for COVID-19 vaccines,” the recommendation explained.

Depending on the vaccine, evidence from studies around the globe show that first doses have been found to be between 57% and 76% effective at preventing symptomatic disease.

Based on the limited supply of vaccines, the NACI recommended that jurisdictions should maximize the number of first doses in the population in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

I’m vaccinated. Can I go to the store or see my friends without wearing a mask now?

Because , you could still get sick or spread it to others in your community. Until we achieve successful immunization coverage, we must continue to adhere to public health guidelines. The provincial government has set a target of 75% of the population.

That means continuing to wear a mask indoors and when physical distancing isn’t possible, maintaining good hand hygiene and reducing our number of contacts as much as possible. The opportunities to be maskless will return, but we must be patient until that time comes. The Public Health Agency of Canada is monitoring vaccine intake uptake with regard to changing rules later, if allowed.