Four vaccines for COVID-19 have now been approved by Health Canada and are being distributed across the country. The four currently approved vaccines are:
- Pfizer / BioNTech
- Oxford University / AstraZeneca
- Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
The vaccines all work a little differently. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. They work by delivering the instructions from the virus that causes COVID-19 to our own cells. This makes the body produce a small part of the virus’ outer shape – the spike protein of the virus – which then stimulates our body’s immune response and teaches it to recognize the virus should the actual virus enter your system.
The AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines are viral vector vaccines. They use a harmless virus (such as an adenovirus, the virus which can cause the common cold) as a “delivery system” for the COVID-19 spike protein, which will stimulate your body’s immune response. This vector virus is not the same virus that causes COVID-19.
Importantly, none of the four vaccines involve injecting people directly with the COVID-19 virus.
There have been lots of reports about the “efficacy” of these different vaccines—which broadly means how well they work. We cannot make a direct comparison between the current vaccines because all of the clinical trials were done under slightly different conditions and used different metrics.
However, what we do know is that all of the approved vaccines were 100% effective in clinical trials at preventing hospitalizations and deaths. We also know that they all have a greater efficacy than the standard Health Canada sets for approvals and that cases have dropped by as much as 80% in vaccinated populations in BC.
This means we cannot say that one vaccine is “better” than another. The best vaccine for you is the one you are offered first. Waiting longer to be immunized is a far greater risk than taking a vaccine with a slightly lower efficacy in clinical trials.
On April 19, Dr Bonnie Henry announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available in pharmacies and clinics across BC to those over 40 years old. This announcement follows an assessment from Health Canada that the risks of rare blood clots (which had led to a temporary pause in the rollout of this vaccine for those under 55), is very rare, at about four in a million. The health risks of COVID-19 – which include a much higher likelihood of blood clots – are far greater.
Watch Dr Bonnie Henry give more detail here.
Three of the four approved vaccines in Canada require two doses for maximum protection (the Janssen vaccine is single-dose). However, there is strong evidence that a single dose provides very high protection for several weeks. This is why BC, in line with the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, has decided for now to delay second (“booster”) doses until up to 16 weeks after the first dose, while vaccine supplies are limited. This is an approach that has also been taken by other countries.
In general, extending the time between the initial dose and the booster dose of a vaccine does not reduce long-term protection and for most vaccines, a slightly longer interval is better.
Since December 2020, vaccines have been delivered regularly to locations in all health authorities in BC. The province is rolling out vaccines to priority groups in phases.
We are currently in Phase Three, the age-based rollout to the public. In addition to age, vaccinations are now available to the extremely clinically vulnerable, as well as in clinics for particularly high-risk workplaces and communities. BC currently aims to offer all adults a first dose by the end of June 2021.
Phases One and Two included long-term care and assisted living staff and residents, and home care workers. Workers in these sectors should have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine by their Health Authority. If they have not, health care workers are still eligible to register and book appointments; more information on how to do so in each Health Authority on the Immunize BC website.
Continuing Care Workers
Long-term Care and Assisted Living Staff
The majority of workers in long-term care and assisted living have now been offered their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Work in underway in parallel with Phase 2 rollout to offer vaccines to those who did not receive their first dose in Phase 1. Further second doses will be offered in due course according to the 16-week interval announced by the Provincial Health Officer on 1 March.
Home and Community Care Staff
The home and community care sector are scheduled to receive their COVID-19 vaccination in Phase 2, which started on March 1 2021. This process is ongoing and the majority of first doses are expected to be delivered in this sector by the end of March 2021.
Independent Living Staff
Workers in independent living organizations that are not co-located with assisted living are likely to be vaccinated according to their age bracket in Phase 2 and 3 of the vaccination rollout.
Resources and Testimonials
Provided by Health Canada, this infographic gives an overview of the process vaccines go through to ensure they are effective and safe.
Some of the most common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine are answered on this poster.
The Government of Canada’s webpage on the vaccine. Contains information on which vaccines are approved and how they work.
Vaccine information from the BC Centre of Disease Control.
University of British Columbia’s Dr. Manish Sadarangani answers your questions about the vaccine. Webinar originally aired on January 21, 2021.
SafeCare BC has developed a Q&A to help you answer some of the most common questions your staff may have.
A flyer created during a SciBeh 2020 Virtual Workshop. Information on how you can deal with COVID misinformation.
A detailed questions and answers page provided by HealthLink BC. Available in multiple languages.