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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. BC is now moving into phase 2 of the COVID-19 Immunization Plan – approximately 400,000 people will be immunized from March to mid-April, including seniors, Indigenous peoples, and people who live and work in independent living.

There are three vaccines authorized for use in Canada, by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca. All vaccines have undergone a rigorous review and authorization process, and have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19.

Since December 2020, the Government of Canada has been 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.

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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, Moderna, and AstraZeneca 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. The AstraZeneca vaccine has shown an effectiveness of about 62% in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 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.

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Vaccine rollout in BC

Vaccines will be made available to subsets of the population in a phased approach 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. You will not become ineligible to get the vaccine when a new phase starts – for example, if you are eligible in phase 2, you can still receive the vaccine in phase 3 or 4.

In the current second phase of vaccine rollout, February to April 2021, the following communities are eligible for immunization in BC:

  • residents, staff, and essential visitors of assisted living and long-term care facilities
  • hospital staff, general practitioners, medical specialists, and healthcare workers with direct patient contact, including community home support workers and seniors’ nursing services
  • adults in Indigenous communities
  • residents and staff of select congregated settings (eg. homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and housing for migrant workers)
  • seniors aged 80 and older (born in 1941 or earlier)

Beginning March 8, call-ins will be required to book a vaccine appointment for seniors and adults in Indigenous communities. For seniors born in 1931 or earlier (90+) and Indigenous peoples born in 1956 or earlier (65+), please call the week of March 8; for seniors born in 1936 or earlier (85+), please call the week of March 15; and for seniors born in 1941 or earlier (80+), please call the week of March 22. When calling your local health authority to make a vaccine appointment, you will be asked for your full name, date of birth, postal code, Personal Health Number, and contact information. Call centres will be open seven days a week from 7:00am to 7:00pm. To find out which health authority you live in, visit http://bit.ly/healthauthorities.

Once priority populations are extensively immunized and additional supply is secured, vaccines will be made available to all other Canadians. From April to June, seniors under 80 will begin to receive vaccines in BC. During this time, younger individuals (under 70) may also be considered for early immunization if they live with a medical condition that puts them at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Front-line workers, and employees of certain workplaces and industries may also be included in this rollout phase, depending on vaccine supply.

Following these priority groups, people aged 59 to 18 will be immunized in age-based cohorts from July to September, starting with those aged 59 to 55, and continuing in five-year increments. Note: Indigenous peoples (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) are eligible to receive their vaccine with 15-year-older age cohorts. For example, if you are 40 years old, you can get vaccinated in the 59 to 55 age increment.

To accommodate all British Columbians eligible for vaccination, 172 communities across the province will host immunization clinics at school gyms, sports arenas, convention centres, and community halls. Mobile clinics will also be available in some rural communities, as well as for those who are home-bound due to mobility issues. These clinics will be managed by local health authorities. More information will be available before phase 3 of BCs Immunization Plan.

BC is working to create a registration and record system to process vaccine access and provide official immunization records for COVID-19. British Columbians in phase 3 and 4 will register for a vaccine appointment through HealthConnect, a simple online registration system, or by phone. Registration will open in late March, and more details will be made available at that time.

British Columbians will be contacted when it is their time to register for immunization. To make a vaccine appointment, you will be asked to complete a pre-screening and select a location, date, and time online or over the phone. On the day of your appointment, you should arrive a few minutes early to complete the check-in process, which may vary from clinic to clinic. Once you get your vaccine dose, you will be asked to wait about 15 minutes before departing, so that healthcare staff may observe you in the rare case that you experience any potential allergic reactions or negative side effects. When it is time to book a follow-up appointment for your second dose, you will again be contacted by email, text message, or phone call.

After receiving the vaccine, individual immunization records will be stored in an online provincial database accessible to you and your healthcare team, as well as public health workers. You will also receive a paper and/or digital copy of your immunization chart.

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.

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.

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COVID-19 safety

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 at http://bit.ly/covidsafetybc.

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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.

People with Parkinson’s in BC are currently not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine early unless they fall into one of the high-risk populations or age cohorts outlined in the provincial vaccine rollout plan. Parkinson’s, on its own, does not put individuals at higher risk of catching the coronavirus or developing significant complications from COVID-19. However, those living with other conditions alongside their Parkinson’s — such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory conditions, immunodeficiencies, and chronic kidney conditions — may be able to receive the vaccine early during the April – June rollout.

If you are under 70, but experience advanced Parkinson’s symptoms with no other co-morbid conditions, speak to your healthcare team about earlier immunization. Those with significant respiratory issues are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, and may possibly be eligible for vaccination early this summer. More information on eligibility will be available in the coming months.


Additional resources

Click the links below to learn more about the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, federal and provincial distribution plans, and COVID-19 safety.