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Key things to know about COVID-19 vaccines

Making an informed choice about getting a vaccine is a very personal decision. Right now, we know that there is a lot of information in the news, on social media and on the internet about COVID-19 vaccines. A lot of this information is true and a lot of this information is false (but could have a little truth that has been twisted). It is so hard to keep up, stay focused and to understand all the information. We know COVID-19 vaccine information can be confusing and sometimes conflicting. 

The key to staying informed is to choose trustworthy and correct information, which is sometimes easier said than done. So, we have compiled just the key things you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines.  
As we slowly make our way back to pre-pandemic activities, it is the COVID-19 vaccine and our communities’ immunity level that will help keep us from more restrictions. Hugging friends and family, playing on our favourite sports team, seeing a concert with a crowd of people, travelling, going back to in-class learning…these are all important things we don’t want to see disappear again. 

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to prevent you from getting seriously sick and stop the virus from mutating into something even worse and harder to stop. 
For the province to lift most of the public health and workplace safety measures currently in place, 80 per cent of the eligible population in Ontario aged 12 and over needs to have one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 75 per cent need to be fully vaccinated (with no public health unit having less than 70 per cent of their eligible population aged 12 and over fully vaccinated).

Visit our HealthSTATS website to see how well we are doing in Simcoe Muskoka to get to those vaccination rates. And check out the province’s website to see how close Ontarians are to hitting that goal. Everyone who gets vaccinated is helping us to get closer to doing the things we love to do as quickly as possible!
The COVID-19 vaccines were ready quickly thanks to a few factors.

First, never-before-seen levels of partnership and funding were committed to developing the vaccines. 

The technology used in the vaccines has been around for more than 10 years and has already been used in animal models for the flu, rabies virus and others. This also allowed scientists to work quickly.

Around the world, many thousands of people participated in clinical trials, and these people were signed up quickly, which helped move along the vaccines’ development. 
It also helped that the COVID-19 vaccines went right to the front of the line for review by Health Canada, making the process much quicker than usual. Usually new drugs and vaccines get added to the bottom of the list and must wait their turn for review. 

All the usual safety steps were followed in approving these vaccines. No steps were skipped! 

For more information see Health Canada’s vaccine development and approval infographic. 

Check out the vaccine regulatory process in Canada overview by Public Health Ontario.

Only vaccines that Health Canada has approved are being used in Ontario.
Health Canada has one of the most careful review systems in the world. A vaccine is only approved if it is safe, it works, it meets manufacturing standards, and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risks. Canada’s best independent scientists reviewed all the data before approving the COVID-19 vaccines for Canadians. 

After getting the two required doses (also known as being “fully vaccinated”), the approved COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be 64%-95% effective in preventing you from getting seriously sick from the virus.

What about side effects?

Like other medications and vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects, but they are usually short-lived and mild.

Side effects are the result of your immune system building protection. Once your immune system has been primed with the first dose there is a much stronger immune response to the second dose. This is a good thing and is also the reason why side effects are more likely to happen after a second dose of the vaccine.

The most common side effects are soreness at the injection site on your arm, tiredness, chills and/or a mild headache as the vaccine starts to work. 
Serious side effects are rare. If they do happen they are usually felt minutes to hours after receiving the vaccine. Seek immediate medical attention or call 9-1-1 if you experience any of the following within three days of immunization: 

- hives

- swelling of the face, mouth, or throat

- trouble breathing

- very pale colour and serious drowsiness

- high fever (over 40C)

- convulsions or seizures

-other serious symptoms (e.g., “pins and needles” or numbness) 

None of the approved vaccines contain the actual COVID-19 virus, so you can’t get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Some people are hesitant to get vaccinated and it’s okay to have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The province’s website has more information about vaccine safety and the COVID-19 vaccine approval process, as well as a helpful Q&A.  

You can also speak with your health care provider. 

Vaccines work by triggering your body to build antibodies that know how to fight the real virus. This helps make your symptoms milder if you get COVID-19.

When most people in a population are vaccinated, the spread of the virus will slow down or stop. This is called herd immunity. Slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19 will also help protect you, your friends, family and others in your community, including those who can’t be vaccinated (e.g., for age or medical reasons). Here’s a bit more information about how the two types of COVID-19 vaccines that are used in Ontario work:

mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna)

-  mRNA vaccines give instructions that teach our cells how to make a protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. 

- The protein (created by our body) triggers an immune response and our bodies make antibodies to fight the infection if the real COVID-19 virus enters our body in the future.

- What you need to know about mRNA vaccines (Public Health Ontario)

Viral vector vaccines (AstraZeneca)

- These vaccines use a harmless virus to carry a coronavirus gene into our body. 

- This gene triggers an immune response and our bodies produce antibodies to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

- The harmless virus and gene are broken down by our body, but the newly produced antibodies remain and provide protection against future COVID-19 infection. 

What you need to know about viral vector vaccines (Public Health Ontario) 

For more on how vaccines work, please see this short video by Immunize Canada.

For multilingual information and resources on COVID-19 vaccines, please visit:

- County of Simcoe Local Immigration Portal – COVID-19 Vaccine Resources

- Government of Ontario – COVID-19 Vaccine Promotion Toolkit and COVID-19 Communications Resources: Vaccine Facts

- Toronto Public Health – COVID-19 Vaccine Resources 

- Public Health Agency of Canada – The facts about COVID-19 vaccines

- Women’s College Hospital – COVID-19 Vaccine: Multi-Language Information

- South Asian Health Network – COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Library

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