Throughout 2021, COVID-19 vaccines will be made available to all Canadians. The Government of Canada has announced a phased approach to immunization, and high-risk communities have already begun receiving vaccinations to protect those who are most likely to develop complications from the disease.
There are two vaccines authorized for use in Canada, by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Both vaccines have undergone a rigorous review and authorization process, and have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19.
In early December 2020, these vaccines began arriving to Canada for distribution to high-risk communities. The Government of Canada is working to ensure the effective distribution of these vaccines as quickly as possible. This process is being managed by several major federal authorities part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, including Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Health Canada and Innovation, and Science and Economic Development Canada. Vaccine rollout to Canadians who are not part of priority groups will be managed at a local level by provincial governments.
About the vaccines
Vaccines work by first exposing the immune system to a germ in small amounts, so if the body is exposed to the same germ at later date, it is “armed and ready” to fight it off. Traditionally, the original exposure to the germ was a weakened or inactive version of the targeted germ. With newer vaccines, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the body is exposed not to a weakened germ, but to a specific type of mRNA. The mRNA instructs cells to produce a particular protein, which in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, is a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Thus, when you are injected with a COVID-19 vaccine, your cells will produce this coronavirus protein in small amounts, which your immune system will immediately recognize as a threat. Your body will then begin to build an immune response by creating antibodies. These antibodies will remain in your body, so if you were to be exposed to the coronavirus after immunization, your body would know how to defend itself and naturally overcome the disease.
COVID-19 vaccines are administered by a small injection into the muscle of the shoulder. For best results, two doses are necessary. The second dose is given roughly one month after the first, depending on which vaccine you get. You may not be fully protected against COVID-19 until 1-2 weeks after receiving the second dose, so it is important to follow public health guidelines even after receiving the vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were both found to be roughly 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 1-2 weeks after the second dose.
Typical side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are minimal, and do not pose any health risk. These may include pain at the injection site, body chills, fatigue, and mild fever. With any vaccine, there is a rare possibility of allergic reaction and other immune responses. Vaccines, like other treatments, must weigh the risks of getting the vaccine (minimal) vs. the risk of not getting the vaccine the potential for developing COVID-19. Speak to your doctor about any serious allergies or concerns you may have before being vaccinated.
Vaccines will be made available to subsets of the population in specific order to prioritize the immunization of those who are at highest risk of disease complications and death, as well as those in communities who have seen the highest rates of COVID-19 cases.
In the current phase of vaccine rollout, the following communities are being immunized:
- residents and staff of assisted living facilities caring for seniors
- adults 70 and older in a phased approach as supply becomes available, beginning with those 80 and older, followed by those aged 75, and finally those aged 70
- healthcare workers with direct patient contact, including personal support workers
- adults in Indigenous communities
As additional vaccines are available, immunization will be offered to healthcare workers, Indigenous communities, and seniors not included in the first rollout, as well as residents and staff of all shared living settings (eg. homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and housing for migrant workers).
Once these priority populations are extensively immunized and additional supply is secured, vaccines will be made available to all other Canadians. Provincial governments will manage local distribution plans.
In British Columbia, priority groups are being immunized between December 2020 and March 2021. By late March, seniors under 80, healthcare workers without direct patient contact, and essential workers should begin to receive vaccines.
BC is working to create a registration and record system to process vaccine access and provide official immunization records for COVID-19. At this time, there is no need to contact your local health authority to register for immunization. Everyone who is recommended to receive a vaccine will be given the opportunity by the end of 2021. The vaccine rollout schedule for priority groups may be amended over time as disease transmission is monitored, and future vaccine availability in the spring and summer will likely be offered on a priority basis which has yet to be announced.
It is important to remember that it is possible to eradicate COVID-19 in BC even if not everyone receives a vaccine. Those who are vaccinated against the disease are not only protecting themselves, but also everyone around them. Distributing vaccines through priority access helps stop the spread of COVID-19 in areas of the population that are responsible for a majority of cases. Once these groups are immunized, the chance of catching the coronavirus drops for everyone. This concept is referred to as herd immunity. The Government of BC reports that once 60-70% of British Columbians are vaccinated, herd immunity could be achieved.
Until herd immunity is reached in BC, it is important to abide by public health orders, even if you are vaccinated. Remember to wash your hands regularly, stay home when you are sick, wear a mask in public spaces, and practice physical distancing by maintaining 2 metres of distance from those outside of your household.
Current COVID-19 safety guidelines for BC can be found here.
Considerations for people with Parkinson’s
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people with Parkinson’s disease, their families, and carepartners. mRNA vaccines do not interact with functions of the body that are impacted by Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, and should not have any interaction with PD medications. Side effects reported in people with Parkinson’s who participated in clinical trials for these vaccines were no different than those of people without the disease.
Once people with Parkinson’s become immunized in large numbers in the initial phases of vaccine rollout, more data will be available on the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Click the links below to learn more about the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, federal and provincial distribution plans, and COVID-19 safety.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines: Overview | Government of Canada
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: What you should know | Government of Canada
Moderna COVID-19 vaccine: What you should know | Government of Canada
COVID-19 vaccines in BC | Government of British Columbia
BC’s response to COVID-19 | Government of British Columbia
Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine | New England Journal of Medicine
An mRNA Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 - Preliminary Report | New England Journal of Medicine