Approval for the vaccines is following the usual processes to ensure safety and efficacy. There are several reasons the process was able to be quicker for the COVID-19 vaccines:

  • more resources were made available
  • resources / work were shifted from other projects to focus on the vaccine
  • global agencies have been working together and sharing data
  • studies took place in areas with high risk of COVID-19 infection so it didn't take long for results
Effectiveness:

The effectiveness of the different vaccines cannot be simply compared based on their numbered percentages, as there are many other factors to take into account. All vaccines are considered to be effective vaccines, and individuals are encouraged to receive whichever vaccine is offered to them. 

  • The two mRNA vaccines have been shown to be ~95% effective. Note: It is important to understand that the stated effectiveness of both of these vaccines is for the dominant strains of the virus and does not yet account for the variants that have popped up since. It is also important to understand two doses are required for full protection of both vaccines and optimal protection begins one week (Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) to two weeks (Moderna vaccine) after the 2nd dose. Maximum duration of protection is not yet known but this continues to be studied.
  • The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and COVISHIELD have demonstrated an average efficacy of ~62% effective in those 18-64 years of age.
    • We don't have information from the same types of studies for those 65 years of age and older. However, we have some real world data from the UK: There were fewer people with symptomatic illness and fewer hospitalization in those 65 years and older two weeks after receiving the first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine compared to those 65 years and older who had not received a dose.
  • The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine had a 72% efficacy in preventing COVID infections after 28 days after original studies. Note: The efficacy dropped to 66% when additional studies have been performed accounting for the variants.

 

Safety:

Short-term adverse effects are similar to those experienced with other vaccines and no safety concerns have been identified. Long-term adverse effects are not known, though most adverse effects of vaccines appear fairly soon after the dose.

  • COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is not associated with an increased overall risk of blood clotting disorders.
  • The benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects.
  • There have been very rare cases of unusual blood clots accompanied by low levels of blood platelets (components that help blood to clot) after vaccination with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.
  • However, if you get any of the following after receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca:
    • breathlessness,
    • pain in the chest or stomach,
    • swelling or coldness in an arm or leg,
    • severe or worsening headache or blurred vision after vaccination,
    • persistent bleeding,
    • multiple small bruises, reddish or purplish spots, or blood blisters under the skin

        please seek prompt medical assistance and mention your recent vaccination.

No. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology - the mRNA gives instructions to the cell to produce the spike protein, like what is found on the coronavirus, to produce an immune response. mRNA only enters the cytosol of the cell and never enters the nucleus, which is where DNA is housed.

  • Pregnancy - mRNA vaccines preferred
    • Pregnancy is not a contraindication to any of the COVID-19 vaccines.
      • Receiving COVID-19 vaccine (including AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD) is not a reason to terminate pregnancy.

    • As of May 21, 2021, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines (mRNA vaccines) are the preferred vaccines in pregnant individuals
      • Viral vector vaccines (i.e. AstraZeneca or COVISHIELD) may be used if: 
        • allergy to any of the mRNA vaccine components, or
        • mRNA vaccine is not readily available
      • The reasons for this recommendation:
        • concern about increased complexity in medical care if Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) were to occur following a viral vector vaccine
        • the majority of safety data are from mRNA vaccines
      • Those who received AstraZeneca for the first dose can receive Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the second dose. 

  • Age
    • Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for use in persons 12 years of age and older
    • Moderna vaccine is approved for use in persons 18 years of age and older
    • AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and COVISHIELD are approved for use in persons 18 years of age and older
    • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is approved for use in persons 18 years of age and older

  • Reported allergy to one of the ingredients
    • Those with food or environmental allergies can receive either vaccine.
    • Talk to your vaccine provider if you have experienced serious allergic reactions to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or other vaccine ingredients to determine if these vaccines are safe for you.
    • See the Health Canada recommendations for people with serious allergies
  • Currently feeling unwell with symptoms that could be COVID-19
    • to prevent potential transmission to others who are at the vaccine clinic/site (clients should be following public health quarantine recommendations)
    • to avoid confusion if symptoms arise as they could be adverse effects of the vaccine or because of the underlying infection

  • Serious adverse or allergic reaction to previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine unless determined safe by an allergist or other healthcare provider.
  • Immunocompromised/Autoimmune Conditions/Pregnancy/Breastfeeding
    • Some groups of people had not been included in original studies meaning we didn’t know if the vaccines would work and be safe in these groups. Because of this, when vaccination first started, it was recommended the risks of not knowing these data be weighed against the benefits from vaccination by taking into account factors like level of COVID-19 exposure and health problems that may lead to more severe symptoms if the person became infected with COVID-19.
    • Now that we have more information from the widespread use of these vaccines, we have some information in these groups.
    • The information we have includes the number and severity of side effects from the vaccines (i.e. safety) and the immune response based on blood levels of antibodies. What we don’t have is just how much these vaccines reduce the severity of symptoms and complications from COVID-19 infection.
    • Based on this new information, it is now recommended that everyone in these groups be vaccinated just like those without these conditions.   
       
    • Immunocompromised
      • Safety of the vaccines has been found to be similar between those who are and are not immunocompromised.
      • Information has shown those who are immunocompromised have mounted an immune response but not as high as those who are not immunocompromised. We don’t know if this means those who are immunocompromised may still become infected with COVID-19 and develop symptoms even if fully vaccinated, but this is a possibility and these individuals will need to continue to take precautions against COVID-19 disease. However, based on other vaccines, the vaccine should provide benefit by reducing the severity of symptoms should COVID-19 infection occur. This is not unique to the COVID-19 vaccines as lower immune responses occur to most vaccines in those who are immunocompromised and will depend on the level of immunosuppression of the individual.
      • Because of this potential reduced immune response, anyone who is immunocompromised due to condition or therapy is advised to consult with their healthcare provider prior to vaccination to ensure vaccination takes place at the best possible time.
    • Autoimmune Conditions
      • Safety of the vaccines has been found to be similar between those with and without autoimmune conditions.
      • In those who do not take immunosuppressant medications, the immune response was similar to those without autoimmune conditions. See the above bullet for those taking immunosuppressant medications.
    • Pregnant
      • There are now real world data emerging in which no maternal or fetal safety signals have been raised. These data have come from:
        • international immunization registries where women who were pregnant at the  time of vaccination reported outcomes during  pregnancy and after delivery
        • preliminary analyses of > 35,000 pregnant women in the US who received mRNA vaccine
      • Information is available showing that mRNA vaccination (i.e. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) in pregnant individuals results in similar immune responses to those following mRNA vaccination in non-pregnant individuals.
      • See information above regarding use of AstraZeneca vaccine in pregnancy.
    • Breastfeeding
      • Early studies consistently show that antibodies are present in breastmilk after maternal vaccination with mRNA vaccines.
      • In one small study, mRNA from COVID-19 vaccines was undetectable in breastmilk 4-48 hours post-vaccination.
      • No concerns have been raised regarding the safety of breastfeeding babies whose mothers received the vaccine.

Currently those 12 years and older are eligible for the 1st dose. Eligibility for 2nd dose begins 28 days following the 1st.

Full protection does not occur until both doses of vaccine have been received so it is very important to return for the second dose when advised. 

For optimal protection, it may take up to:

  • 7 days following the 2nd dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
  • 14 days following the 2nd dose of the Moderna vaccine

The vaccines are highly effective (~95%) but may not protect all those who receive it.

Following vaccination, continue to follow Public Health guidelines regarding hand hygiene, physical distancing, masks, etc. Public Health officials will be monitoring infection rates as more people get vaccinated and will adjust recommendations accordingly. 

Saskatchewan is adopting the following strategy for vaccine to use as 2nd dose (following current 2nd dose eligibility):
  • Anyone who received AstraZeneca for their first dose is eligible to receive AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the 2nd dose, as preferred, unless contraindicated.
  • mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) are considered interchangeable. Anyone who received an mRNA vaccine for the 1st dose should take whichever of these two vaccines is available to them for their 2nd dose, rather than waiting for the same brand of vaccine. This will provide residents with more options to be immunized sooner.

    Minimum Intervals Between COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

    Vaccine Brand
    1st Dose

    Vaccine Brand
    2nd Dose

    Interval*

    Pfizer-BioNTech

    Pfizer-BioNTech

    Minimum 28 days

    Moderna

    Moderna

    Minimum 28 days

    Pfizer-BioNTech

    Moderna

    Minimum 28 days

    Moderna

    Pfizer

    Minimum 28 days

    AstraZeneca

    AstraZeneca

    Minimum 28 days

    AstraZeneca

    Pfizer-BioNTech

    Minimum 28 days

    AstraZeneca

    Moderna

    Minimum 28 days

    *Previous information suggested 8-12 weeks after AstraZeneca first dose is optimal; however, with the Delta variant circulating in Saskatchewan, it's recommended that all residents receive second dose vaccinations as soon as eligible.

  • If you have not received your 2nd dose when it is due, book an appointment for as soon as possible to make sure you have full protection. However, both of your doses will count and you will not need to repeat any doses. 
  • It is most important that you don't get your 2nd dose too soon. 
    • Do not receive your 2nd dose of the Pfizer vaccine earlier than 21 days following the 1st dose.
    • Do not receive your 2nd dose of the Moderna vaccine earlier than 28 days following the 1st dose. 
    • Do not  receive your 2nd dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine earlier than 28 days following the 1st dose.

 

No, the vaccine does not contain live virus; instead it provides the information your body needs to make antibodies/immune protection against the virus. As such, you cannot get COVID-19 infection from the vaccine.

If you were infected with the virus at the time of vaccination (e.g. you didn't have symptoms and didn't know you were infected), the vaccine will not keep you from passing COVID-19 to others. 

Following vaccination, continue to follow Public Health guidelines regarding hand hygiene, physical distancing, masks, etc. Public Health officials will be monitoring infection rates as more people get vaccinated and will adjust recommendations accordingly.