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About the COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines authorized by Health Canada are safe, reliable, and can help protect you, your family, and our community from COVID-19. All of the COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada are highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination:

  • works with your immune system to help protect you from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
  • is a safe and effective way to help build protection against the virus
  • will help build community protection, stopping the spread of the virus in our community
  • is voluntary, but strongly encouraged

There is a chance that you may still get COVID-19 from another person after being vaccinated so it is important that we continue to follow public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, and staying home if you are sick. Health care workers and other staff must still wear personal protective equipment (PPE) even after they have been vaccinated.

Vaccine side effects are being monitored as people receive the vaccine. If you get a reaction to the vaccine, contact your health care provider who will report the side effect directly to Public Health. Public Health will keep track of the reported side effects to make sure the vaccines continue to be safe.

COVID-19 vaccines may be co-administered with, or at any time before or after, non-COVID-19 vaccines (e.g. flu vaccine) with informed consent.

Authorized COVID-19 vaccines in Canada

Health Canada has conducted thorough and independent reviews and authorized the following vaccines for use in Canada:

Find additional information about the authorized COVID-19 vaccines on the Government of Canada website and the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Information Sheet.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

How does the vaccine work?

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine uses a method called messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The mRNA in the vaccine tells the body’s cells to make "spike proteins," similar to what is found on the COVID-19 virus. The immune system responds to the spike proteins by making antibodies, which will protect against COVID-19 infection in the future. These new antibodies will break down the COVID-19 spike proteins and get rid of them. The mRNA is broken down by the body shortly after injection and cannot affect the body’s DNA. mRNA vaccines are not live vaccines and cannot cause infection.

How is the vaccine administered?

Two doses of the vaccine are required for full protection, given up to 16 weeks apart. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle of the arm. 

What are the potential side effects?

Some people may experience side effects from the vaccine, but they will likely be moderate and resolve after a few days. Some of the symptoms are part of the body’s response to developing immunity to a virus.

Common side effects that have been reported in clinical trials for this vaccine include:

Very common ≥10% (more than 1 in 10 doses)

  • pain at the injection site
  • headache
  • feeling tired
  • muscle or joint pain
  • fever or chills

Common 1%-10% (1 in 100 to 1 in 10 doses)

  • redness & swelling at the injection site

Uncommon 1% (1 in 100 doses)

  • enlarged lymph nodes

In rare cases, serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can occur. Allergic reactions can be treated and are usually temporary. Vaccine side effects will continue to be monitored as people receive the vaccine. If you get a reaction to the vaccine, contact your health care provider who will report the side effect directly to Public Health. Public health will keep track of the reported side effects to make sure the vaccine continues to be safe. 

If you get a reaction to the vaccine, contact your health care provider who will report the side effect directly to Public Health. Public health will keep track of the reported side effects to make sure the vaccine continues to be safe. 

Pericarditis/Myocarditis
  • Rare cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart) following vaccination with COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been reported in Canada and internationally.
  • Symptoms of myocarditis/pericarditis can include shortness of breath, chest pain, or the feeling of a rapid or abnormal heart rhythm. Symptoms can be accompanied by abnormal test results (e.g., electrocardiogram, serum troponins, echocardiogram).
  • International cases are consistently reported to have occurred:
    • More often after the second dose
    • Usually within a week after vaccination
    • More often in adolescents and young adults (12 to 30 years of age)
    • More often in males than females.
  • The reporting rate for the Moderna vaccine was 6.6 per million doses administered following first dose and 28.2 per million doses administered following second dose, for all age groups and genders combined.
  • Most cases appear to be mild and respond well to conservative treatment (e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and rest.
  • COVID-19 vaccines continue to be recommended and are highly effective at preventing symptomatic infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease, which is also associated with a risk of myocarditis. 
Who should get this vaccine?

The vaccine is approved for people who are 12 years of age and older who do not have any contraindications.

Do not get a COVID-19 vaccine if you:

  • Have a fever, are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, currently have COVID-19 or have been instructed to self-isolate.
  • Have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine or have had a previous severe reaction to this vaccine.

Visit Health Canada’s vaccine webpage (Pfizer-BioNTech) for a list of vaccine ingredients.

Learn more about COVID-19 Vaccines for Children.

Paediatric Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

The clinical trials of the Paediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine showed that the vaccine was 90.7% effective at preventing COVID-19 in children 5 to 11 years of age and no serious side effects were identified. Health Canada has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years of age outweigh the risks and has authorized a lower dose that is safe and effective at protecting this age group from COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

With Health Canada’s approval of the Paediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in November, children aged 5 to 11 are now eligible to book their appointment to receive the vaccine. For more information check our COVID-19 Vaccine for Children page.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

How does the vaccine work?

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine uses a method called messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The mRNA in the vaccine tells the body’s cells to make "spike proteins," similar to what is found on the COVID-19 virus. The immune system responds to the spike proteins by making antibodies, which will protect against COVID-19 infection in the future. These new antibodies will break down the COVID-19 spike proteins and get rid of them. The mRNA is broken down by the body shortly after injection and cannot affect the body’s DNA. mRNA vaccines are not live vaccines and cannot cause infection.

How is the vaccine administered?

Two doses of the vaccine are required for full protection, given up to 16 weeks apart. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle of the arm. 

What are the potential side effects?

Health Canada reported that side effects that followed administration of the Moderna vaccine were mild or moderate and are common of many vaccines, including:

  • pain at the site of injection
  • body chills
  • feeling tired
  • feeling feverish

If you get a reaction to the vaccine, contact your health care provider who will report the side effect directly to Public Health. Public health will keep track of the reported side effects to make sure the vaccine continues to be safe. 

Pericarditis/Myocarditis
  • Rare cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart) following vaccination with COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been reported in Canada and internationally.
  • Symptoms of myocarditis/pericarditis can include shortness of breath, chest pain, or the feeling of a rapid or abnormal heart rhythm. Symptoms can be accompanied by abnormal test results (e.g., electrocardiogram, serum troponins, echocardiogram).
  • International cases are consistently reported to have occurred:
    • More often after the second dose
    • Usually within a week after vaccination
    • More often in adolescents and young adults (12 to 30 years of age)
    • More often in males than females.
  • The reporting rate for the Moderna vaccine was 6.6 per million doses administered following first dose and 28.2 per million doses administered following second dose, for all age groups and genders combined.
  • Most cases appear to be mild and respond well to conservative treatment (e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and rest.
  • COVID-19 vaccines continue to be recommended and are highly effective at preventing symptomatic infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease, which is also associated with a risk of myocarditis. 

Effective September 29, 2021, Pfizer-BioNTech is recommended for 12-24 year olds due to an observed increase in Ontario of pericarditis/myocarditis following vaccination with Moderna compared to Pfizer in the 18 to 24 year old age group, particularly among males.

Who should get this vaccine?

The vaccine is approved by Health Canada for people who are 12 years of age and older who do not have any contraindications.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Health recommends Moderna for people who are 25 years of age and older and who do not have any contraindications. Pfizer-BioNTech is recommended for 12-24 year olds. This recommendation is due to an observed increase in Ontario of pericarditis/myocarditis following vaccination with Moderna compared to Pfizer in the 18 to 24 year old age group, particularly among males.

Should individuals aged 18 to 24-year old wish to receive Moderna they can continue to do so with informed consent.

Do not get a COVID-19 vaccine if you:

  • Have a fever, are sick with COVID-19 symptoms, currently have COVID-19 or have been instructed to self-isolate.
  • Have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine or have had a previous severe reaction to this vaccine.

Visit Health Canada’s vaccine webpage (Moderna) for a list of vaccine ingredients. 

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Please note, in Ontario the AstraZeneca vaccine is unavailable for first or second doses.  Any questions or conerns related to authorized use of these vaccine must be directed to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

How does the vaccine work?

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. The vaccine uses DNA from a virus (called an adenovirus) as a delivery system (viral vector). The adenovirus does not make humans sick. The vaccine containing the viral vector enters the body and then the vector virus produces the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The immune system responds to the spike proteins by making antibodies. These new antibodies will break down the spike proteins and get rid of them. The new antibodies will protect against COVID-19 infection in the future.

Viral vector technology has been used for over ten years to produce many of the vaccines approved in Canada.

The viral vector (adenovirus) has a tough protein coat that protects the DNA inside. Therefore, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be kept frozen.

How is the vaccine administered?

Two doses of the vaccine are given up to 16 weeks apart by injection into the muscle of the arm. After completing the two doses, it will take another 14 days to reach maximum protection against COVID-19.

What are the potential side effects?

Common side effects following administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine are typically mild or moderate and are common to many vaccines, including:

  • pain at the site of injection
  • body chills
  • feeling tired
  • feeling feverish

These are common side effects of vaccines and do not pose a risk to health. There is a chance that there will be a serious side effect, like an allergic reaction, but these are rare.

Safety concerns: vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT)

On May 11, 2021, the Government of Ontario paused the rollout and administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, out of an abundance of caution due to an observed increase in the rare blood clotting condition, known as Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT), linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. On May 21, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced that second dose administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine will continue

Individuals should seek medical attention if they develop the following symptoms 4 to 28 days after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine:

  • a persistent and severe headache
  • a seizure
  • difficulty moving part of your body
  • blurred or double vision
  • difficulty speaking
  • shortness of breath
  • chest, back, or abdominal pain
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • new reddish or purplish spots, or blood blisters
  • swelling, pain, color or temperature change of an arm or a leg.

Visit Health Canada's website for more information on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Who should get this vaccine?

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by Health Canada for individuals over the age of 18 who do not have any contraindications.

In Ontario, AstraZeneca is only available to individuals who have a severe allergy to mRNA vaccines. 

First and second doses should only be given in extenuating circumstances (i.e. on the recommendation of an allergist/immunologist where a confirmed allergy exists to components of the mRNA vaccines).

AstraZeneca is now available in Ontario

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is contraindicated in individuals who:

  • Have experienced major venous and/or arterial thrombosis with thrombocytopenia following vaccination with any vaccine.
  • Have experienced a previous cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) with thrombocytopenia or who have experienced heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT).
  • Who think they have experienced a previous CVST with thrombocytopenia or heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT).

Public Health will not be providing the AstraZeneca vaccine at any vaccination clinics.

Pharmacies and Physicians can now order the AstraZeneca vaccine through Public Health, please speak to your Primary Physician or Pharmacist for more information. 

Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine

The Government of Ontario has secured a very limited supply of the single dose Janssen (Johnson & Johnson ) COVID-19 vaccine as part of its efforts to vaccinate as many eligible individuals as possible in the province.

How does the vaccine work?

The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. The vaccine uses DNA from a virus (called an adenovirus) as a delivery system (viral vector). The adenovirus does not make humans sick. The vaccine containing the viral vector enters the body and then the vector virus produces the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The immune system responds to the spike proteins by making antibodies. These new antibodies will break down the spike proteins and get rid of them. The new antibodies will protect against COVID-19 infection in the future.

Viral vector technology has been used for over ten years to produce many of the vaccines approved in Canada.

The viral vector (adenovirus) has a tough protein coat that protects the DNA inside. Therefore, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be kept frozen.

How is the vaccine administered?

A single dose of the vaccine is given by injection into the muscle of the arm. It may take another 14 days to reach maximum protection against COVID-19 after vaccination.

What are the potential side effects?

Common side effects following administration of the Janssen vaccine are typically mild or moderate and are common of many vaccines, including:

  • pain at the site of injection
  • body chills
  • feeling tired
  • feeling feverish

These are common side effects of vaccines and do not pose a risk to health. As with all vaccines, there is a chance that there will be a serious side effect, like an allergic reaction, but these are rare. 

Safety concerns: vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT)

Cases of a rare blood clotting condition, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), have been reported following the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Individuals should seek medical attention if they develop the following symptoms 4 to 28 days after receiving the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine:

  • a persistent and severe headache
  • a seizure
  • difficulty moving part of your body
  • blurred or double vision
  • difficulty speaking
  • shortness of breath
  • chest, back, or abdominal pain
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • new reddish or purplish spots, or blood blisters
  • swelling, pain, color or temperature change of an arm or a leg

Visit Health Canada's website for more information on the safety of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

Who should get this vaccine?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available to individuals aged 18 and over who have an allergy or contraindication to mRNA vaccines, as well as individuals who have not yet been vaccinated.

Appointments are limited.

As per NACI, The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is contraindicated in individuals who:

  • Have experienced major venous and/or arterial thrombosis with thrombocytopenia following vaccination with any vaccine. 
  • Have a history of capillary leak syndrome.
  • Have experienced a previous cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) with thrombocytopenia or have experienced heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). 
  • Have experienced a previous CVST with thrombocytopenia or heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). 

This is a single dose vaccine; maximum protection will be attained only after 2 weeks following administration of the vaccine.

Each vial contains five, (0.5 mL) doses. Discard any remaining vaccine in the multi-dose vial after five doses have been extracted.

After the first puncturing of the vial, the vial/filled syringe can be held at 2°C to 8°C for up to 6 hours or at room temperature (maximally 25°C) for up to 3 hours. Discard any remaining vaccine not used within this time.

Clinical trials showed that beginning 2 weeks after the single dose, the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine lowered the chance of getting sick from COVID-19 by 67% and of getting seriously ill by 77%. 

Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

Hours of operation:

  • Every Wednesday for the month of February (beginning February 2) from 9:00 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Address: 99 Regina St. S, Waterloo.

Clinics will be by appointment only. Please visit our booking portal to schedule an appointment at the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic.

See the Ministry of Health Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Information Sheet.

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Precautions

Before your vaccination appointment, review the following statements and follow the directions.

I am currently pregnant or breast/chestfeeding

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that if a risk assessment with a health care provider deems that the benefits outweigh the potential risks, and if informed consent includes discussion about the absence of evidence on the use of COVID-19 vaccine then a complete series of COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals who are pregnant or breast/chestfeeding. 

I am immunocompromised

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that if a risk assessment with a health care provider deems that the benefits outweigh the potential risks, and if informed consent includes discussion about the absence of evidence on the use of COVID-19 vaccine then a complete series of COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals who are immunosuppressed due to disease or treatment or suffering from an autoimmune disorder.

I have had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in any of the available COVID-19 vaccines (e.g. polyethylene glycol [PEG]).

Individuals who have had a severe allergic reaction or a suspected allergic reaction within 4 hours of receiving a previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine should be referred to an allergist/immunologist for consultation and to discuss options for future vaccinations.

If this applies to you, you will not be able to receive COVID-19 vaccination at a mass immunization clinic. Please contact 519-575-4400 to cancel your scheduled appointment.

I have had an allergic reaction within 4 hours and/or anaphylaxis that occurred with a different vaccine or injectable medication that does not contain a component of COVID-19 vaccine.

Please contact your treating health care provider to have a discussion about COVID-19 vaccination. Your health care provider may refer you to an allergist/immunologist for consultation. After this consultation you may decide:

  • To receive the vaccine. At your appointment, you will be asked for documentation from your health care provider indicating that it is safe to receive the vaccine and if any specific conditions apply. You will be asked to wait 30 minutes after vaccination to monitor for adverse effects
  • Not to receive the vaccine. Please contact 519-575-4400 to cancel your scheduled appointment.

I have had an allergic reaction to a food, drug, venom, latex or other allergen not related to COVID-19 vaccine OR I have allergic rhinitis (e.g. seasonal allergies), asthma or eczema.

You may receive COVID-19 vaccination but will be asked to wait 30 minutes after vaccination to monitor for adverse effects. No documentation or consultation with your health care provider is required.
I am receiving anticoagulant therapy (blood thinners) or I have a bleeding disorder.

You may receive COVID-19 vaccination if your condition/treatment is under control and you are able to receive injections or have blood work. 

After immunization, you will be asked to apply firm pressure to the injection site for 5-10 minutes.

If you are not able to receive injections or have blood work, please contact 519-575-4400 to cancel your scheduled appointment and consult with your health care provider about options for vaccination.

How can I get a vaccine?

Anyone born in 2016 or earlier is eligible to get a vaccine.

The Province of Ontario is working with the pharmacy sector to offer vaccinations at select pharmacy locations in Waterloo Region. Contact a participating pharmacy near you to book an appointment. 

Select primary care providers are offering vaccines to their patients. If your primary care provider is offering vaccines, you will need to book an appointment directly with them.

Medical exemption

The Ontario Ministry of Health requires all Public Health units to upload medical exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine database, COVAX, for the purposes of obtaining a QR code and receipt. 

Public Health will verify exemption letters and/or forms in person only at these two locations:

  • 99 Regina Street South, Waterloo
  • 150 Main Street, Cambridge

Prior to coming to one of the above locations, please ensure that you have:

  • A letter from your primary care physician documenting the medical exemption on the physician/specialist letterhead as per the guidance provided to physicians/specialists; or
  • A completed Medical Exemption Form from your primary care physician or specialist. If submitting this form, you will also need to provide a logo or letterhead identifying the physician or registered nurse who filled out the form.

The exemption must clearly indicate the reason why the individual cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Protect yourself and others

Evidence suggests that the vaccines reduce the spread of COVID-19, either by preventing infection or by reducing the number of COVID-19 cases.

The spread of the virus will slow down or stop when a large percentage of the population becomes immune to COVID-19. This is known as herd immunity. Experts do not know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. 

This is why is important that you continue to follow public health measures after you are vaccinated:

  • Only have close contact with your household members, or one other household, exclusively, if you live alone
  • Avoid indoor gatherings, visit with other households outdoors
  • Practice physical distancing
  • Wear a face covering
  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces and crowded places

If you develop any symptoms stay home, isolate from household members and schedule an appointment for testing.

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