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Immunization

COVID-19 vaccines

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Immunization protects you from disease.
​​Get protected, get immunized.

  • Vaccines make your immune system stronger. They build antibodies to help prevent diseases.
  • Immunization is safe. It's much safer to get immunized than to get this disease.​

What are COVID-19 vaccines?

COVID-19 vaccines protect against the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as COVID-19). COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has caused a worldwide pandemic. The virus causes an infection in the lungs and airways and is a type of respiratory illness. Go to ahs.ca/covid to learn more about COVID-19. 

There are 2 types of COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada.

mRNA vaccines
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

mRNA vaccines have messenger RNA (mRNA) that teaches your cells to make a spike protein, like the one that’s on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. This triggers your immune system to make antibodies against it. So if you come in contact with the real COVID-19 virus, these antibodies will be ready to protect you and fight the virus. 

Learn more about COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Viral vector-based vaccines
The AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD and Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) vaccines are viral vector-based vaccines.

Viral vector-based vaccines use a harmless virus that isn’t COVID-19. This harmless virus shows your cells how to make a spike protein, like the one that’s on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. This triggers your immune system to make antibodies against it. If you come in contact with the real COVID-19 virus, these antibodies will be ready to protect you and fight the virus.  

Who should get a COVID-19 vaccine?

​You should get a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re age 12 years or older. Everyone is at risk of COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are free.

If your child is getting a COVID-19 vaccine
Children under age 18 years need a parent or guardian to give consent for their immunization. If a parent or guardian can’t attend the appointment, they can give their written consent. Please complete the consent form and send it with the person that’s taking your child to their appointment. In some cases, children under age 18 years may be able to give their own consent.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes, you can get the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. When you’re pregnant, you have a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy lowers your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

It’s best to get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine if you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Research to date shows that it’s the safest type of COVID-19 vaccine to get during pregnancy.
 
If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on getting pregnant and have questions about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider. 

How many doses do I need?

For the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada, you need 1 or 2 doses. The number of doses depends on the vaccine you get. If you get a vaccine that needs 2 doses, your healthcare provider will let you know when you should get your second dose.

Visit alberta.ca/covid19-vaccine.aspx for more information.

How well do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

If you’re healthy and get all the doses you need, the protection for COVID-19 is about:

  • ​95% f​or the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines
  • 82% for the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine
  • 67% for the Janssen vaccine
After 1 dose of any COVID-19 vaccine, your risk of getting COVID-19 is lowered by about 60 to 80%. All COVID-19 vaccines work very well to lower your risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. They also lower your risk of needing to be in the hospital.

At this time, there’s not enough information to know how long protection lasts or if you’ll need booster doses.

It’s still important to practice the recommended public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even if you’ve had the vaccine. This includes:
  • following guidelines of when to wear a mask or other equipment that helps protect you
  • washing your hands often
  • staying 2 metres away from others who don't live with you
  • staying home when you’re sick (this means isolating)
  • staying home for 14 days after returning from travel outside of Canada (this means quarantining)

You may not have to quarantine after having close contact with someone who has COVID-19. This depends on how many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine you've had and if you have symptoms.

Visit ahs.ca/quarantineaftervaccine​ for more information​.

Which COVID-19 vaccine will I get?

Go to ahs.ca/covidvaccine​ to find out what type of COVID-19 vaccine you can get. Please check this page often as it’s updated regularly.

What if I got the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine as my first dose?

If you got the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine for your first dose, you can choose the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine or an mRNA vaccine for your second dose. 

The AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine is a safe vaccine that works well to protect you against COVID-19. But some people may choose an mRNA vaccine to complete their COVID-19 immunization.

No matter which vaccine you choose, the second dose offers protection against COVID-19 and will complete your two-dose series.

Research is ongoing to find out how much protection you have when different types of COVID-19 vaccines are used to complete your immunization series. 

Go to ahs.ca/seconddose​ for more information about getting an mRNA vaccine after an AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine.

Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Go to ahs.ca/covidvaccine to find out where and when you can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Are there side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?

There can be side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, but they tend to be mild and go away in a few days. Side effects may include:

  • redness, warmth, swelling, bruising, itching, or feeling sore where you had the needle
  • feeling tired or unwell
  • a headache
  • a fever or chills
  • body aches or sore joints
  • feeling sick to your stomach (nausea), vomiting (throwing up), or loose stool (diarrhea)
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • a cough

It’s important to stay at the clinic for 15 minutes after your vaccine. Some people may have a rare but serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If anaphylaxis happens, you’ll get medicine to treat the symptoms.

It’s rare to have a serious side effect. Call Health Link at 811 to report any serious or unusual side effects.

Rare events after getting either the AstraZeneca/COVISHEILD or the Janssen vaccine

There have been very rare reports of blood clots, low levels of platelets (these help your blood to ​clot), and bleeding after getting either the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD or the Janssen vaccine. 

These events happened 4 to 28 days after getting the vaccine. The risk of these events after getting the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine​ is about:
  • 1 in 55,000 after the first dose
  • 1 in 600,000 after the second dose
Research is still ongoing to find out more about the risk of these events after getting the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD and Janssen vaccines.​

COVID-19 continues to spread at a high rate in Alberta. Your risk of serious illness from COVID-19 is much higher than it is for developing a rare event after getting these vaccines.
 
Go to COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions​ for more information.​

If you have any of the following symptoms, get medical help right away:
 
  • trouble talking or moving a part of your body
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • severe swelling, pain, or a colour change in your arm or leg​
  • stomach pain that doesn’t go away
  • a severe headache that doesn’t go away
  • blurry vision
  • bruising (other than where you had the needle)
  • red or purple spots anywhere on your body
  • bleeding (more easily than normal)​​

How can I manage side effects?

To help with soreness and swelling, put a cool, wet cloth over the area where you had the needle. 

There is medicine to help with a fever or pain. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure what medicine or dose to take. Follow the directions on the package. Children under the age of 18 years should not take aspirin because it can cause serious health problems.

Some people with health problems, such as a weak immune system, must call their doctor if they get a fever. If you’ve been told to do this, call your doctor even if you think the fever is from the vaccine.​

What if I had or am getting another type of vaccine?​

Wait at least 28 days after you have a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before you get another vaccine.​

If you’ve had another vaccine, wait 14 days before you get a COVID-19 vaccine.​

Who should not get the COVID-19 vaccine?

You may not be able to get​ a COVID-19 vaccine if you:

  • have an allergy to any part of the vaccine
  • had a severe (serious) or unusual side effect after this vaccine or one like it
  • are under age 11 years
  • have had another vaccine in the last 2 weeks

Check with your doctor or a public health nurse before you get the vaccine.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before you get a COVID-19 vaccine, if you:

  • have a weak immune system (because of a medicine you take or a health problem)
  • have an autoimmune disorder (like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus)
  • have had a stem cell or organ transplant

Always tell your healthcare provider if you have allergies or if you've had a side effect from a vaccine in the past.

Facts about COVID-19

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that’s caused a worldwide pandemic. The virus causes an infection in the lungs and airways and is a type of respiratory illness. Symptoms may include:

  • a fever
  • a cough
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • a sore throat
  • a runny or stuffy nose

Most people have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. But if you’re an older adult or have other health problems, you can get very sick and may need care in a hospital. In serious cases, COVID-19 can cause a type of lung infection called pneumonia. Pneumonia makes it hard to breathe without help and can even lead to death.​

Go to ahs.ca/covid for a list of all symptoms that may be related to COVID-19.

How does it spread?
COVID-19 spreads:

  • when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks
  • if you breathe in the virus
  • if you touch something that has the virus on it (like hands or a door knob) then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose

It’s important to know that you and others can spread COVID-19 before symptoms start.

Go to ahs.ca/covid to find out more.

How can I prevent COVID-19 from spreading?
To prevent COVID-19 from spreading:

  • get immunized
  • wash your hands with warm water and soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often
  • don’t touch your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • cover your cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue, not your hand
  • stay home when you’re sick
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick

If you think you’ve had contact with COVID-19 or have symptoms, take the COVID-19 Self-Assessment at ahs.ca/testing.

More information

Current as of: June 4, 2021

Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services