COVID-19 Vaccine Resources

Note: the goal of this site is to provide examples of resources for North Toronto partners as they plan/respond. It is not intended to replace existing organizational protocols. As more information appears, these resources will be updated.

Sunnybrook Staff: please refer to our intranet page at sunnynet.ca/coronavirus to ensure you are viewing the latest version of these documents and resources

About these Resources

This page was created in an effort to make COVID-19 Vaccine information easily accessible for North Toronto Ontario Health Team partners. As new information appears, this page will be updated to reflect any changes.

COVID-19 Vaccine Education 

The following resources were developed by Sunnybrook and are included for assistance in providing vaccine education in an easy-to-understand format for patients, healthcare staff and external partners.

Infographic: What you should know about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine

Provided below are additional educational resources to understand the COVID-19 Vaccine:

COVID-19 Vaccine Approval Infographic (Health Canada)

COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet (Toronto Public Health)

COVID-19 Vaccines: mRNA Vaccines Factsheet (Public Health Ontario)

Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics (Public Health Ontario)

Video Resources

Virtual Town Hall: Long Term Care Homes and COVID-19 Vaccine

On Friday, December 18th, we hosted a virtual town hall featuring Dr. Jerome Leis, Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Leis provided information on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to long term care homes in North Toronto.

View a recording of the town hall below:

Frequently Asked Questions

Vaccine Development

How is possible for a vaccine to go from the early stages of development to mass production and distribution in less than a year? Shouldn’t the manufacturers take more time to make sure this vaccine is safe?

Normally, vaccines and medications have longer development periods that take a couple of years to move from the lab to clinical use. However, given the focused energy and global need for a vaccine, many of the hurdles encountered in normal product development have been overcome in a record amount of time. To accomplish this, the researchers used strategies like combining phases of a clinical trial (e.g., designing a Phase I/II trial) in order to get more data sooner that can help save time.

Importantly, a lot of resources (financial, scientific, logistical, etc) were put into vaccine programs allowing the research to progress rapidly. Despite the tightened timeframe, approving bodies across the world have conducted thorough review of the process and have deemed the vaccine to be safe.

How was the vaccine actually developed?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the development of new and innovative vaccine technologies – including messenger RNA (mRNA).

Pfizer‘s mRNA vaccines contain the genetic code for producing “spike” proteins – the distinctive protrusions that dot the surface of the coronavirus. When delivered in a vaccine, the mRNA enters the body’s cells and instructs them to churn out spike proteins. Human cells immediately recognize these are “foreign” proteins and alert the immune system to start generating protective antibodies.

The key advantage of an mRNA vaccine is that the synthetic raw materials can be produced faster than some traditional vaccines like flu shots which rely on viral samples grown in eggs.

At the same time, mRNA is inherently unstable. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which creates some additional challenges when it comes to distributing the doses.

Safety/Side Effects

I’ve heard reports in the news of people experiencing side effects after getting the vaccine. What are they and how likely is it that I’ll experience them too?

Forty-four thousand people participated in Pfizer’s clinical trial of this vaccine. Since the trial was randomized, not every participant received the vaccine (some received a placebo). Of those who did actually receive the vaccine, participants reported some side effects including fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever and joint pain, which generally resolved after a day.

How do we know Pfizer properly evaluated the safety of the vaccine during clinical trials? 

Throughout Pfizer’s vaccine trial, progress was (and continues to be) closely tracked by an external group of independent experts, called a Data Monitoring Committee (DMC) which also monitors the study for safety, on an ongoing basis. To date, the Data Monitoring Committee for the study has not reported any serious safety concerns related to the vaccine. More information is available on Pfizer’s website. Importantly, all safety data was reviewed independently by organizations such as Health Canada as requirement for vaccine approval.

How can we trust that the vaccine will be safe long term?

There is a rigorous testing process that happens before a vaccine gets approved, and safety is a key factor that is examined. Follow up studies are also conducted on vaccines to look at longer term effects. The vaccines currently approved for other diseases (e.g., flu, hepatitis B, etc) all have excellent safety profiles and the same standards apply to any COVID-19 vaccine used in Canada.

How effective is the vaccine? 

The vaccine was found to be 95% effective in trial participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (the virus responsible for COVID-19) and also in participants with or without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, in each case at 7 days after the second dose.

Is it possible that getting the COVID-19 vaccine could actually give me the virus? 

No. The Pfizer vaccine only contains parts of the virus, such as a protein from the virus or a bit of the genome. This is what allows your immune system to be trained to recognize SARS-CoV-2 later if you get infected, and keeps you protected from it.

How many doses do I need to get for the vaccine to work? 

You need to get two doses, around 21 days apart.

How long is the vaccine effective for after I get both shots? Is this something I’ll need to get every year, like the flu shot? 

Scientists don’t yet know how long the protection from a single dose will last, so it will be important for people to receive two shots. Researchers in the Pfizer trial found a noticeable drop-off in new COVID-19 cases in the vaccine group 10 days after the first dose, compared with the placebo group, indicating that even one dose provides some protection.

Do I have to get the vaccine now? I would rather wait a few more months to see what kinds of reactions other people experience after getting the vaccine?

While health care workers are among the first groups in Canada to be eligible to receive the vaccine, it’s important to remember that tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccine during the clinical trial phase. Trial participants reported relatively minor side effects such as fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever and joint pain, which generally resolved after a day.

Other

How many people need to get the vaccine in order for it to be effective? 

Generally speaking, a large number of people need to receive the vaccine in order to generate herd immunity, so that people who can’t get the vaccine (such as those with immunodeficiencies) still benefit from the protection. Researchers won’t know what the herd immunity threshold for this particular vaccine is until after vaccination and monitoring actually begins, but early predictions start at around 75%.

What are the medical contraindications to the vaccine? 

  • Anaphylactic reaction or breathing problems subsequent to previous dose of COVID-19 vaccine
  • Anaphylactic reaction to propylene glycol
  • Active symptoms of COVID-19 infection or any severe illness, including febrile illness (postpone vaccination)
  • Receipt of any other vaccine 14 days prior to COVID-19 vaccine (due to the need for accurate surveillance of any adverse effects)

Should I receive the vaccine if I am or may be pregnant or breast feeding or if I’m immunosuppressed? 

In line with the Ministry of Health guidance, healthcare workers who are pregnant, breastfeeding or are immunosuppressed may be eligible to get vaccinated. We are requesting that prior to booking a vaccination, all healthcare workers that fit in this category have a conversation with their health care providers about risks vs. benefits of getting the vaccine. If you fall in any of these categories, you will be required to indicate via consent form that you have had this discussion with your primary care provider or specialist at the time of vaccination.

Helpful Resources

COVID-19 vaccine safety (Government of Ontario)

COVID-19: how vaccines are developed (video by the Public Health Agency of Canada)

Information on COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada (Government of Canada)

Canada.ca/coronavrius

COVID-19 Vaccine and Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions (a clinician resource from Ontario Health Cancer Care Ontario – PDF)