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What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a product that helps protect you from bacteria and viruses that make you sick like measles, whooping cough, the flu and COVID-19.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Health Canada has a careful approval process to make sure the vaccines and medicines we take are safe.

It is completely normal to feel worried when something is new. Vaccines do more than protect the person getting vaccinated, they also protect everyone around them. The more people in a community who are vaccinated and protected from COVID-19, the harder it is for the virus to spread. 

Four vaccines – the Pfizer [fai-zer], Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines – have been approved by Health Canada. 

There are two types of vaccines:

  1. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. The mRNA vaccine teaches the cell in our body how to make a protein to help fight against COVID-19. They are not live virus vaccines and cannot give you COVID-19.
  2. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are viral vector-based vaccines. This type of vaccine uses a harmless virus to deliver instructions to your cells. These vaccines do not use the virus that causes COVID-19. These vaccines are currently only approved for people age 30+.

Health Canada did a careful scientific review of the medical evidence to check the safety of the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. Only Pfizer is approved for youth 12-18 at this time.  

The COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada are safe, effective and will save lives.

It’s only been a year since COVID-19 came up. How did a vaccine come out so fast?

Most of the scientific community around the world came together to try and find a cure for a single disease at the same time. There are three main reasons why the vaccines were able to be developed so fast: 

  1. Scientists from around the world worked together to find a solution
  2. Billions of dollars in funding have been put towards finding a solution to COVID-19
  3. Governments around the world allowed vaccine development to happen more efficiently, while maintaining strict clinical and safety standards.

Do I have to pay for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone in British Columbia who is able to receive it. 

Are there any side effects to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are very safe. Any medicine or vaccine has a small chance of side effects. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get COVID-19. 

After being vaccinated against COVID-19, some people have reported mild, short-term side effects similar to those experienced after a flu shot, which go away after 1-2 days. These side effects include:

  • Pain where the vaccine is given (the upper arm)
  • Soreness, redness or swelling where the vaccine is given
  • Mild to moderate tiredness and chills
  • Headache or joint pain

In very rare instances, some people may get inflammation of the heart after receiving an mRNA vaccine. These cases have been mild and often recover fully with treatment.
Symptoms of heart inflammation can include

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of a rapid or abnormal heart rhythm

(If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Inform the health care provider that you have received a COVID-19 vaccine recently.)

Clinical trials have not shown serious side effects with the COVID-19 vaccine. Like with other vaccines, there is a risk of an allergic reaction. One in a million people have a severe allergic reaction after receiving a vaccine. It is important to stay in the clinic for at least 15 minutes after you receive the vaccine so that you can get treatment if you have a reaction. 

If you have any severe symptoms or any symptoms that are not in the list of side effects above, you should seek medical attention immediately.

What are the long-term effects of the vaccine?

We are still learning how our immune systems respond to COVID-19. We are also learning how long immunity lasts after getting COVID-19 and after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Who should not get the vaccine?

Health Canada recommends that people allergic to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine should avoid getting that vaccine for now. Health Canada also recommends that people who have had an allergic reaction to another vaccine, drug or food should speak with a healthcare professional before getting vaccinated.

When can I get the vaccine?

Young people ages 12 and older are now able to register for a vaccine appointment. Youth can register and book themselves or have a parent/trusted adult help them book an appointment. If parents/caregivers have booked an appointment, youth can go with them.

There is no set age in B.C. for when a child can provide consent on their own. The health care provider giving the vaccine decides if a child can consent on their own if they are able to understand the risks and benefits of vaccination and if they are able to make decisions about their own health. Generally, youth aged 12 and older are given the opportunity to consent to immunizations themselves. Learn more about informed consent and mature minor consent

Your decision to get the vaccine is your decision and should be respected. It is your body and your choice. You aren’t obligated to tell your family and friends about your decision.

For the latest news on vaccinations, check BC’s Response to COVID-19 Page.

How can I protect myself in the meantime?

Even if vaccines are available, we still need to continue to protect each other. Protect yourself and others by:

Even after you get vaccinated, it’s important to continue to follow the public health guidelines as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in the real world.

What if I don’t want to get the vaccine?

Your decision to get the vaccine is your decision and should be respected. It is your body and your choice. You aren’t obligated to tell your family and friends about your decision. However, it may be difficult to do things you were able to do before without a vaccine, like going on flights and attending large events.


Keywords: vaccine, vaccination, social distancing physical distancing, covid-19, coronavirus

This article was last edited on August 16, 2021.

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