C.A.R.P. Hosts National Vaccine Summit and Provides Timely Answers to All Your COVID-19 Vaccination Questions


C.A.R.P. helped sort through the facts and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 immunization by speaking with medical experts during its National Vaccine Summit on Thursday. Photo: GettyImages/Ridofranz

In an effort to clarify the general uncertainty many Canadians still have about COVID-19 vaccines, and to separate the facts and myths surrounding the different doses, C.A.R.P. hosted its National Vaccine Summit on Thursday, Mar. 25.

The free online educational event gathered leading Canadian scientific experts to provide straightforward information and answers on everything you need to know about receiving your vaccination (you can watch a video of the summit below).

As vaccine shipments pour into Canada this week, provinces and territories will be ramping up efforts to immunize as many people as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, this national immunization rollout — one of the largest public health campaigns ever organized in our nation’s history — has been off to a bumpy start, marred by a shortage of doses, a plethora of misleading information surrounding the development of vaccines and continuing  confusion over the safety and efficacy of the different doses.

Besides the overriding importance of immunizing older Canadians against the devastating COVID-19 virus, experts at today’s summit tried to cut through all the myths and misinformation that permeate on social media, discussed ways to improve the immunization rollout, shared news on the development of a made-in-Canada dose and stressed the importance of governments investing in programs that cover the cost of important vaccines — not just those aimed at battling COVID-19 — for all older Canadians across the country.

Dr. Shelly McNeil, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Dalhousie University, held a timely session in which she fielded questions from participants at the summit, providing answers and useful information to all those pressing questions older Canadians have about the vaccine, including:

Why do I have to receive a vaccine?

McNeil explains that we need to immunize as many people as possible to stop the spread of the virus, and to prevent hospitalization and death.

Which vaccines are approved for use in Canada?

Currently, four vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — have been approved for use by Health Canada, with another, from Novavax, under review. McNeil explains that although the vaccines are developed differently — the Pfizer and Moderna are so-called mRNA vaccines, while the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses are known as a viral vector vaccines — they produce similar results. A modified form of the virus is injected into your arm that “teaches the body” to fight the infection. Because none of these vaccines contain a live COVID-19 virus, McNeil explains that it’s not possible that it will cause you to get the disease.

What evidence is there that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe?

McNeil assures us that all four vaccines have been rigorously reviewed by health regulatory bodies in Canada and around the world. All of the evidence that’s been gathered from the clinical trials and global rollouts show that they’re “remarkably safe,” says McNeil.

Does the fact that the vaccines were developed so quickly compromise their safety?

McNeil assures us that “no safety shortcuts were taken” by the drug makers when developing these vaccines. She explains that the technology that powers these vaccines has been around a long time. The reason they were developed so quickly is because of “unprecedented collaboration” between scientists, health-care bodies, politicians and pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to come to market at record speed.

Which vaccine is best suited to seniors?

McNeil advises that we should take whichever vaccine we’re offered. She suggests that because we have better information on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, ideally, we should prioritize these for older people. However, this doesn’t mean that if you’re offered the AstraZeneca vaccine — you shouldn’t take it.

Will I get side effects after getting my injection?

According to McNeil, you may experience some mild side effects, particularly after receiving the second dose. The most common include inflammation, soreness or itchiness in the arm, a general feeling of being unwell, headaches, fatigue or sometimes even a mild fever. These should only last a day or two after your shot.

How long will the vaccines provide effective protection against COVID-19?

At this point in time, admits McNeil, we don’t know the answer to this. Scientists are tracking how long these vaccines will remain effective in battling the original virus that causes COVID-19 and its variant strains. The results of this research will determine whether, down the road, we will require a seasonal vaccination (like the flu shot) or whether we’ll need boosters.  “We’re waiting to find that out and watching carefully,” she says.

Will the vaccines continue to provide effective protection during an extended interval between doses?

Because three of the four vaccines are two-shot doses — and we’re still dealing with a supply shortage, including no delivery as of yet from Johnson & Johnson — the provinces and territories have extended intervals between receiving the first and second dose for up to four months. McNeil says research shows that the vaccines offer very good efficacy in preventing COVID-19 with only one dose. She adds that we’re learning that protection from first dose lasts at least three months in which there is no significant drop off in effectiveness.

Can I carry the COVID-19 virus even if I’ve received the vaccine?

McNeil says that while the vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of you being a carrier after you receive your dose, we don’t  know if that will be true in all cases. That’s why she encourages people to continue to wear masks, distance, and practise hand hygiene, even if they’ve received their shots.

Do I need a vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19?

McNeil explains that if you’ve had a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, you still should get vaccinated. There are cases of people who’ve had COVID-19 but have been reinfected. “We don’t know how long protection lasts,” she says.

Will the vaccines create problematic interactions with my underlying medical conditions?

McNeil says that because the risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is extremely high in people with underlying medical conditions (hypertension, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) she recommends that you get the vaccine. If you’re worried about the effect the shot may have on your underlying medical problems, talk to your health-care provider before booking an appointment.

If I have a history of anaphylactic shock, should I still get the vaccine?

McNeil suggests that vast majority of people can be safely vaccinated, even if they have a history of allergic reactions, such as to shellfish or bee stings. All vaccines include some components that “very, very rarely” have been associated with allergic reactions. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to a previous inoculation, you should talk to your health-care provider. McNeil adds that all clinics have nurses trained to treat anaphylaxis should it occur.

Can I receive a COVID-19 vaccine along with other other vaccines, such as flu, shingles or pneumonia shots?

McNeil recommends that you probably shouldn’t get any other vaccine within two weeks of receiving your COVID-19 dose. She advises that you hold off on receiving any other vaccine — especially those that aren’t critical — in order to avoid any conflicting side effects. Then, once you’ve had your COVID-19 shot, you should wait four weeks before getting any other vaccines.

What’s a “Vaccine Passport” and will I have to get one?

A vaccine passport is simply an immunization record — like those little yellow booklets that tracked the vaccines you had as a child. It provides proof that you’ve received your full dose. It may become important down the road if you want to travel but right now we’ll have to wait to see whether countries and businesses require them. McNeil advises that we hold on to the proof of vaccination just in case — it may become an important document.