COVID-19 vaccines approved and distributed to Canadians

PHOTO: Hakan Nural / Unsplash

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

Canada has approved Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines and has begun distributing them to Canadians. BC “hopes to have vaccine[s] available for all those who choose to [be] vaccinated by the end of 2021,” according to the BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) website. The COVID-19 vaccine will be free for all Canadians who wish to have it. 

The Moderna vaccine is currently approved for Canadians age 18 and up while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people age 16 and up, reflecting the ages used in each respective trial. 

Distribution will be done in phases, beginning with residents and staff in “long term care and assisted-living residences,” in addition to “health care workers providing care for COVID-19 patients in settings like Intensive Care Units, emergency departments, medical/surgical units and paramedics.” Remote First Nations communities are also in the BCCDC’s first group to be vaccinated and they are predicting this group will be vaccinated by February. 

The BCCDC is aiming to vaccinate the second group from February to March. This will include “seniors age 80 and above,” along with “Indigenous elders and Indigenous seniors age 65 and above, people experiencing homelessness and/or using shelters, provincial correctional facilities, adults in group homes or mental health residential care, long term home support recipients and staff, [and] hospital staff.”

Both vaccines require two injections in the muscle of the upper arm in order to reach full effectiveness. Moderna’s second dose is required one month later while Pfizer-BioNTech’s second dose is required 21 days later. Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, told Global News that a single dose of the Moderna vaccine will achieve 80% effectiveness against COVID-19, while the Government of Canada reports that a second dose will increase effectiveness to 94.1%.

Both of these vaccines are made with mRNA; the Government of Canada notes that “mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response without using the live virus that causes COVID-19. Once triggered, our body then makes antibodies. These antibodies help us fight the infection if the real virus does enter our body in the future.” 

After Canadians are vaccinated, there are questions around what mask-wearing and physical  distancing protocols will look like. The United States’ CDC website notes that “while experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, and staying at least [six] feet away from others.” 

Reported side effects during the clinical trial of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were mild to moderate, according to the Government of Canada. They include “pain at the site of injection, body chills, feeling tired, and feeling feverish.” More severe side effects are rare and may be linked to pre-existing allergies. The Government of Canada suggests that Canadians speak with their healthcare practitioners about health conditions and allergies before receiving the vaccine. 

The potential for long-term side effects are unknown but are currently being studied by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Allegedly, they plan to continue monitoring clinical trial patients for the next two years and will communicate with Health Canada about any findings. 

Dr. Sharma also noted that the Moderna vaccine is more accessible than Pfizer-BioNTech’s because it doesn’t need to be stored at -70°C and can be stored in standard freezers.