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5 things you should know about the COVID-19 vaccines

COVID · May 12, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out in Canada, and Canadians — understandably — have lots of questions important to their health. These vaccines are a key way out of our third wave and ongoing epidemic (the wide spread of the COVID-19 virus in Canada) in the coming months, but they are not the only protection strategy we must focus on.

Here are five of the most important things we know about COVID-19 and vaccination right now:

  1. Canada is in a serious third wave of COVID-19. With our rising case rates and strained hospitals, it is even more urgent that we all protect ourselves as soon as we can. Vaccination is already making an impressive difference in many countries, with places like Israel seeing nearly full protection against hospitalization and death in people who have received both doses of vaccine. Similarly, Canada has seen a dramatic drop in COVID-19 impacts in long-term care and retirement home residents who have been vaccinated. The vaccines are safe and they work, and the best vaccine is the first one offered to you — especially amidst this third wave.

  2. The vaccines are safe. The vaccines approved for use in Canada work by stimulating our body’s natural immune response. Health Canada has conducted a rigorous scientific review of the available medical evidence to assess the safety of all vaccines approved in Canada, and no major safety concerns have been identified. Canadian experts continue to monitor the safety of all vaccines approved in Canada, quickly responding to any emerging signals. For example, we now understand that the risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines is extremely rare. As of April 2021, more than 600 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide.

  3. The vaccines work. We know the approved vaccines are excellent in protecting us from getting COVID-19. Most importantly, all of the vaccines prevent us from getting very sick from COVID-19 — including harms like hospitalization and death. These results are as good as the best vaccines we have for preventing harm from any disease. The vaccines also likely help prevent us from spreading COVID-19 to our loved ones and those around us, although studies are ongoing. This level of efficacy will play a major role in helping slow spread and move us towards a safer Canada. Scientists continue to monitor how long immunity lasts and how effective the vaccines are for the emerging variants; like the flu shot, it is possible we will need to update our COVID-19 vaccines year-to-year to give our bodies the best protection possible.

  4. Getting vaccinated is good for us, but also our shared responsibility for our communities. Many people have questions about herd immunity and what it means for COVID-19. When enough people are immune to COVID-19, it becomes hard for the virus to spread. For example, if a person with the virus comes across only people who are mostly immune to the virus, that potential chain of infection will quickly end. The herd immunity threshold is the proportion of people that need to be immune for us all to have shared protection as a community of individuals. For COVID-19, scientists estimate that at least 70 per cent of people need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity and come closer to ending Canada’s COVID-19 epidemic. For some of the more transmissible variants of concern that spread more easily, vaccination rates may need to be even higher. With nearly one in three Canadians having received at least one dose of vaccine, we still have some way to go toward shared protection. It will take time to vaccinate enough of our fellow Canadians to achieve shared protection through herd immunity, which is why it is crucial to continue following public health guidance regarding masking and distance until the COVID-19 virus is no longer prevalent in our communities – even after we are immunized. As more of us get vaccinated, it will help keep our families and communities safe, and bring a sooner end to the pandemic.

  5. It is more important than ever to be diligent about safety. Although we have begun to vaccinate Canadians, the virus continues to spread and our hospitals are under strain from COVID-19 nationwide. There are also emerging variants of COVID-19, which are thought to be significantly more transmissible. The good news is that our safety layers work if we use them diligently and in combination.  Think of Swiss cheese: each individual layer of protection has limitations, or holes, like a slice of Swiss cheese. But if we stack our layers of Swiss cheese, we can be more confident that we are preventing spread, keeping our loved ones and communities safe. With that in mind, it is more important than ever that we keep practicing all of the steps we know well: staying home when possible, practicing physical distancing, using a well-fitting mask when around others (even when distanced), being outdoors or in a place with good ventilation, using good hand hygiene, and getting the vaccine when it is our turn. Together, we can all contribute to moving Canada toward a post-pandemic era.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Government of Canada website, review this great resource, or connect with your trusted health professional.

This article was published on May 12, 2021. All the information included reflects the reality as of these dates, but please note that the COVID-19 situation, and the related vaccination campaign and research, is constantly evolving. Please refer to your municipal, provincial and federal updates for the most up to date developments on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Authored by:
Dr. Dominik Nowak
Chair of the TELUS Medical Advisory Council

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