Dr. Reena Lovinsky is an expert in infection prevention and is an Infectious Diseases Specialist & Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at SHN’s General and Birchmount Hospitals.
Vaccines have been around for decades and are one of the most significant advances in modern medicine. They prevent millions of infections every year and have eliminated diseases like smallpox globally and polio in Canada.
New vaccines are constantly being developed and then approved by Health Canada. Some newer vaccines prevent common mild childhood infections like chickenpox (Varicella vaccine), some prevent severe but rare infections like brain infections (MenC) and some even prevent cancer (the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer).
The COVID-19 Vaccine
When talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, you may have heard about vaccine efficacy and vaccine effectiveness. Vaccine efficacy is how well the vaccine works in a study, and effectiveness is how well it works in real life. In countries with high COVID-19 vaccination rates like Israel, they have seen a 94% decrease in people with COVID-19 infections and a 92% decrease in people with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization in people who have had their COVID vaccinations.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. They are effective across gender and race and have shown up to 95% efficacy. They are both mRNA vaccines, and the technology to make mRNA vaccines has been around for decades.
The mRNA vaccine does not contain the COVID-19 virus but instead contains a recipe for our bodies to create a protein that replicates the spike protein in the COVID-19 virus. Once we receive the vaccine, our bodies make an army of antibodies as “soldiers” to prevent future infection of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 vaccine was developed more rapidly than traditional vaccines due in large part to:
- New technology available;
- A large amount of financial support; and,
- Extensive studies during the pandemic while there was due to the high risk of COVID-19 exposure.
As of February 28, 2021, over 240 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in 103 countries. That number will continue to grow as more vaccines become available.
Health Canada has now approved two other vaccines – the Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Both of these vaccines are viral vector vaccines, which means they contain a modified adenovirus (a virus that causes the common cold) that can no longer cause infection in humans. The viral vector acts as a transport system to carry a piece of genetic code from the virus that causes COVID-19. This code allows the human body to create our own mRNA which is the recipe for the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus. Then, just like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, our bodies make antibodies to prevent a COVID-19 infection.
All these vaccines have 100% efficacy of preventing hospitalizations and 100% efficacy of preventing death from COVID-19.
Building Confidence in the COVID-19 Vaccine
Three main factors contribute to vaccine hesitancy: confidence, complacency and convenience.
Confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine is critical. One of the biggest fears is having a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine (anaphylaxis), which is proven to be incredibly rare. Out of over 9.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the USA, only 4.7 people out of 1 million experienced an anaphylactic reaction. Out of over 7.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, only 2.5 people out of 1 million experienced anaphylaxis. Over 80% of those who had an adverse reaction had a history of allergies to other vaccines or medications. The majority of these severe allergic reactions took place in the first 10 minutes after the vaccine was given. That is why you will be observed for 15 minutes after your vaccine is given to ensure you do not have any immediate allergic reaction. If you have a history of severe allergies you will be observed for 30 minutes as an extra precaution. If you have any history of allergies, be sure to speak to your family doctor to see if you should see an allergist before making your vaccine appointment. People who do have a severe allergy to any of the ingredients of the vaccine should not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine & Pregnancy
The COVID-19 vaccine is not a live vaccine, which is the only kind not allowed during pregnancy. Some vaccines, like the flu shot, are specifically recommended during pregnancy. While pregnant women are not at higher risk of getting COVID-19 than the general public, if they get the virus when pregnant, they could suffer complications that include premature labour, stillbirth, leg and lung clots or need more critical care. The potential risks of mRNA vaccines to pregnant women and the fetus are currently unknown because pregnant women were excluded from the studies and clinical trials for the vaccines. However, the American Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine advises, “Health care professionals should counsel their patients that the theoretical risk of fetal harm from mRNA vaccines is very low.”
If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, please talk to your health care provider and consider the following:
- The high level of COVID-19 community transmission in Scarborough;
- Your individual risk based on work and your lifestyle;
- The risks of COVID-19 to you and your baby;
- The efficacy of the vaccine (95%);
- The potential side effects of the vaccine (fever, sore arm, muscle aches, headache, fatigue); and,
- The lack of data available about the vaccine during pregnancy.
Why you should get the COVID-19 vaccine
Once the COVID-19 vaccine is available to your region and age group, we highly recommend getting it for four main reasons:
- Protect yourself;
- Protect your family;
- Protect your community; and,
- For your life to go back to normal. Once enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19 in our community, life will be able to return to normal.
However, because a small portion of Canadians are vaccinated, you must still follow Public Health guidelines once you receive your vaccine. This includes wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet of social distance and avoiding unnecessary travel.
We have been battling the COVID-19 pandemic for one year, and there is finally hope on the horizon as more people receive their vaccination. If you are worried about the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit the reliable sources below for more information.
COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Library