COVID-19 Vaccine

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Last revised - January 22, 2021

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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a viral infection that primarily affects the lungs. Some people may have a mild illness. Others may get very sick, including older adults or those with a pre-existing health condition. Very rarely, some children can get a serious inflammatory condition. The long-term effects of COVID-19 are not fully known. Some people are at greater risk of getting COVID-19 because of their work or living conditions. 

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The current situation regarding COVID-19 vaccination in Ottawa

On December 9, 2020 Health Canada authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine in Canada made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna was also authorized on December 23, 2020. 

Several other vaccines are currently at various stages of regulatory approval by Health Canada. Vaccine manufacturers were encouraged to apply through the interim order process, which allowed Health Canada to start the review process much sooner than usual. This also allowed for all new evidence to be reviewed immediately, instead of waiting until all studies are completed. The federal government dedicated more scientific, financial and human resources to complete these reviews, so that they were done as quickly as possible.  Health Canada’s independent evaluation of scientific and medical evidence for safety, efficacy and quality of COVID-19 vaccines is maintained, and Health Canada will make publicly available any safety and efficacy evidence used to issue expedited authorization. 

The City of Ottawa's COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force continues work on a plan for vaccine distribution in Ottawa, as it awaits further direction from the provincial and federal governments.  

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The first phase of COVID-19 vaccination in Ottawa

As part of Phase One of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program, the Ottawa Hospital (TOH), in partnership with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the City of Ottawa, will be participating in the COVID-19 vaccine readiness program in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Pfizer- BioNTech. The Ottawa Hospital continues to receive vaccines from the Province to administer in accordance with the provincially mandated priority sequence groups for Phase 1.

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Who is currently eligible for the first phase of vaccination?

At this point, Phase 1 populations to be immunized include residents, staff, essential caregivers (including family caregivers) and other employees in congregate living settings for seniors. Health care workers, including hospital employees, staff who work or study in hospitals and health care personnel. Also, adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations and adult recipients of chronic home health care. The province has started to provide more guidance about how to sequence among health care workers.

Hospitals have identified additional essential health care workers, such as emergency room and intensive care unit staff, those working on COVID-19 wards, paramedics and other frontline workers have also been receiving the vaccine at the hospital clinic.

Find out more here: COVID-19 Vaccination in Ottawa Long-Term Care and Retirement Homes

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When will vaccines be available to the general public?

The next phase of the vaccine rollout (Phase 2) will include older adults, beginning with those 80 and older and decreasing in five-year increments over the course of the vaccine rollout, people who live and work in high-risk congregate settings (for example, shelters, community living). As well as frontline essential workers, including first responders, teachers and other education staff, the food processing industry and individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers.

It’s important to note that it will be several months until a vaccine is available to the general public and receiving the vaccine does not mean an individual can stop any of the other prevention measures until we are clear about how effective the vaccines are at preventing COVID-19 transmission. We must all continue to do our part to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the community: limit your close contacts to those within your household, practice physical distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home except for essential reasons and follow local and Provincial guidance.

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Which vaccines are approved in Canada?

Learn about each vaccine, how it works, how it is given, ingredients, allergies, possible side effects, safety monitoring

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What can you do right now?

Until vaccines are widely available, it remains important to take steps to protect yourself, your loved ones and our community against COVID-19. This includes staying home as much as possible, keep two metres (six feet) distance from others, wearing your mask and washing your hands often. Learn more about things you can do to reduce virus spread.

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Do the COVID-19 vaccines work? 

Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved in Canada. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine can be given to people 16 years of age and older, including older adults. Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine can be given to people 18 years of age and older, including older adults. In clinical trials, both vaccines were higher than 90% effective.   

There is a small chance that you may still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated. As such, it is very important to continue with public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home if you are sick. Health care and other staff must still wear personal protective equipment (PPE) even after they have been vaccinated.  

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Frequently asked questions

How it Works

How do mRNA vaccines work?
COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) which provides instructions to cells in our bodies to make a viral protein from the coronavirus called a “spike protein”. The mRNA provides the instructions that allows the cell to make the spike protein, and then the immune system is activated to recognize the spike protein as being different from the body’s own proteins and initiates an immune response. The mRNA is then degraded by normal cellular mechanisms and the spike proteins are destroyed by the immune system.
How different is this COVID-19 vaccine from the influenza (flu) vaccine?

No, the Covid-19 and influenza vaccine are separate products. COVID-19 vaccine will not protect you against influenza. The seasonal influenza vaccine changes every flu season. When you receive your annual flu vaccine, you are protected only from the specific influenza strains that are circulating for that given season that are covered by the vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is a vaccine used to prevent COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Reasons to get vaccinated 

Why should I get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine?
Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread and reduce the impact of infectious diseases, whether it is the seasonal flu (influenza) or childhood infections. Safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are becoming available to protect us against COVID-19. While many people infected with COVID-19 experience only mild illness, others may get a severe illness or even die. There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you, even if you are not at increased risk of severe complications. COVID-19 vaccination helps protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience the illness of COVID-19.
What percentage of the population needs to get vaccinated to have “herd immunity”?

Herd immunity is a term used to describe when enough people have protection—either from previous infection or vaccination—that it is unlikely a virus or bacteria can spread and cause disease throughout the population. As a result, on average, the whole population within the community is protected even if some people don’t have any protection themselves. However, isolated or short chains of transmission could still occur. The percentage of people who need to have protection in order to achieve herd immunity varies by disease.

Experts do not know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. Some estimates for COVID-19 suggest it may be near 60 to 70%, though the full range of estimates is much broader. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue practicing public health measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

(See also: FAQ: Once a person is vaccinated with the series of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, can they stop following public health measures like wearing a mask, physical distancing and self-isolating when they become sick?)

Can people who have already tested positive for COVID-19 get a COVID-19 vaccine?  

Yes. Those who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 should still be vaccinated and people do not need COVID-19 testing prior to vaccination.  

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, people can still get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.  

At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity developed after having an infection, called natural immunity, is different from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long. We need more information on how well the vaccine works to be able to assess how long immunity from the vaccine will last.

Distribution & Roll Out

Can a health care worker who lives in Quebec, but is working in Long-Term Care in Ontario (Ottawa) receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. We want to be able to protect the health of the residents in the LTC homes and so those employees would be eligible to receive the vaccine here in Ottawa.

Myths

Can the mRNA vaccine alter a person’s DNA?
No. mRNA is not able to alter or modify a person’s genetic makeup (DNA). The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept. This means the mRNA does not affect or interact with our DNA in any way. Instead, COVID-19 vaccines that use mRNA work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop protection (immunity) to disease.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine cause a COVID-19 infection
No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development use the live virus that causes COVID-19. There are several different types of vaccines in development. The goal of each of the vaccines is to teach the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign of the immune response to vaccine.

It usually takes the body a few weeks to build immunity after receiving a vaccine. It is possible that someone could become infected with the COVID-19 virus before or just after getting the vaccine and get sick. This happens because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection in the body. Learn more about COVID-19.

Safety

Has the vaccine been shown to cause Bell’s palsy?
No. A direct connection with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes temporary facial paralysis, has not been established. The Pfizer study examined 38,000 patients and found four cases of Bell’s palsy among those who received the vaccine, but this is in keeping with the normal observed incidence of Bell's palsy in the population. The COVID-19 vaccine, like all vaccines, continues to be monitored for adverse events. 
Is it true that the COVID-19 vaccine only stops someone from having COVID-19 symptoms, but they could still pass the virus to others without knowing (asymptomatic transmission)?  

Studies of COVID-19 vaccines have shown that they are very effective at preventing people from becoming sick with COVID-19.However, right now we do not have enough information to show us how likely it is that someone who has been given a COVID-19 vaccine can develop an asymptomatic(no symptoms) COVID-19 infection and pass it to others.  

While there is early evidence suggesting that the vaccine may also reduce COVID-19 transmission, NACI is recommending that everyone continue to practice public health measures (e.g. wearing a face mask and physical distancing) regardless of whether or not they received a COVID-19 vaccine. More information on the vaccines ability to reduce COVID-19 transmission is expected in the near future.  

This means the vaccines will protect those who receive it from getting sick, but it is possible that someone who has been vaccinated could still carry the virus pass the virus on to othersalthough it would likely be at a much lower rate.  

How was Health Canada able to approve the COVID-19 vaccine so quickly – did they lower their safety standard for vaccines?
The reason the COVID-19 vaccine was approved quickly is not because safety standards have changed, it’s because Health Canada shortened the administrative and organizational process of vaccine authorization. The safety requirements in clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine were just as strict as the regular process for any other vaccine.

Public Health Measures 

Once a person is vaccinated with the series of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, can they stop following public health measures like wearing a mask, physical distancing and self-isolating when they become sick?

No. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue practicing public health measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. That means covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often and never touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, staying at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from others and self-isolating when sick.  

Health care and other staff must still wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when working, even after they have been vaccinated. 

COVID-19 vaccination along with public health measures will offer the best protection from the spread of COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change the recommendations everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision. 

Allergies, side effects and medical conditions 

Can people with severe allergies to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine receive the vaccine?

No. People with a history of severe allergic reaction to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine should not receive the vaccine. 

Visit the Health Canada web page to learn who should not received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines?

The most frequent side effects are injection site pain, fatigue and headache. Some people receiving the vaccine in trials also reported muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. These symptoms were usually mild or moderate in intensity and resolved within a few days after vaccination. These are all expected reactions to vaccines because of the immune response and are very similar to those reported following the seasonal influenza vaccination.

Visit the Health Canada webpage for more information on the side effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

If a person develops an adverse reaction, what should be done?

No serious safety concerns have been causally linked to COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada.

If someone experiences an adverse event following immunization, they should report it to a healthcare professional (e.g., family doctor).

An adverse event following immunization (AEFI) is an unwanted or unexpected health effect that happens after someone receives a vaccine, which may or may not be caused by the vaccine.

Healthcare professionals should complete the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) Form and send it to the local public health unit.

Public health surveillance of AEFIs is important for timely detection of rare vaccine safety issues. For more information visit the OPH page on AEFI reporting.

Expected side effects for each vaccine product are listed on the vaccine product monograph; common side effects could be found under ‘Side effects and risks’.

Precautions 

Can I receive the COVID-19 Vaccine if I am pregnant, breast/chestfeeding or immunocompromised? 

National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that if a risk assessment with a health care provider deems that the benefits outweigh the potential risks, and if informed consent includes discussion about the absence of evidence on the use of COVID-19 vaccine then a complete series of COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to the following populations: 

  • Adolescents 12 to 15 years of age (Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine) 

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding/chestfeeding 

  • Immunosuppressed due to disease or treatment or suffering from autoimmune disorder 

What are some precautions that should be considered before receiving the vaccine?
  • Delay getting vaccinated if you have a fever or are sick with COVID-19 symptoms.  This helps to avoid attributing any complications from other illness with vaccine-related adverse events, and to minimize COVID-19 transmission at an immunization site
  • The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that individuals delay pregnancy by at least 28 days after the completion of a two-dose series of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Up to date recommendation from NACI can be found here.
  • The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations support that individuals who are on long-term anticoagulation are not at higher risk of bleeding complications after immunizations and can safely be immunized without stopping their anticoagulation therapy. NACI also recommends that individuals with a bleeding disorder should ensure that their condition is optimally managed before immunization which may require consultation with their treating health care provider.
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I recently got my flu (influenza) shot, or another vaccine? 

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) currently recommends that people wait for at least 14 days after being given another vaccine (e.g. the influenza vaccine) before receiving the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines. NACI also recommends that people wait for 28 days after receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine before getting another vaccine. In summary, the COVID-19 vaccine should be given 14 days after receiving any previous vaccine and additional vaccines should not be given for 28 days after the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Finally, NACI does not recommend that COVID-19 vaccines be given at the same time as other vaccines.  

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COVID-19 Update

Contact Information

Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 telephone line

  • Monday to Friday, from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm
  • Weekends, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-580-6744 follow the prompts to the COVID-19 telephone line
  • TTY: 613-580-9656

Emergency Services

  • If you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting, or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to the Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care clinic. Go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

See someone not respecting COVID-19 rules?

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 2-1-1

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