February 22, 2021 – Ottawa, Ontario
No single nation, people or person can fight COVID-19 alone. It will take collective action to protect us.
Vaccines are effective
Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread and reduce the impact of infectious diseases, from the seasonal flu to childhood infections. Safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 will protect us against the disease and are an important step to safely resume normal life in Inuit Nunangat, across Canada and around the world.
The COVID-19 vaccine won’t erase the painful history of our interaction with Canada’s colonial health care system, but the involvement of Inuit throughout the COVID-19 response planning process is a positive step toward reconciliation. National planning has been developed with Inuit realities, culture and history in mind, and with particular attention to ensuring that we learn from our past experiences with infectious disease.
Vaccines are safe
Only vaccines that are safe and effective are being approved for use in Canada. Creating a new vaccine can take years. The development of vaccines for COVID-19 has progressed quickly for many reasons, including advances in science and technology; international collaboration among scientists, health professionals, researchers, industry and governments; and increased funding.
Health Canada’s independent drug authorization process is recognized around the world for its high standards and rigorous review. National decisions are based on scientific and medical evidence showing that vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccination is our best tool in the fight against COVID-19 because benefits of being protected from the disease have been proven to outweigh any risks associated with vaccination.
Vaccines can train your immune system
There are different types of vaccines. The type being used in Canada and Inuit Nunangat is called a Messenger RNA vaccine. RNA stands for ribonucleic acid, which is a molecule that provides cells with instructions for making proteins. Instead of using the live virus that causes COVID-19, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response. Once triggered, our body then makes antibodies. These antibodies help us fight the infection if the real virus does enter our body in the future.
A vaccine will be available to everyone
All Canadians will have access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as sufficient supply is available. But because there will be limited quantities at first, key populations need to be prioritized. With input from groups including Inuit representative organizations, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has provided recommendations for the prioritization of initial doses of COVID-19. This allows us to protect those at greatest risk of severe symptoms first, and then expand the program to all Canadians as more vaccine becomes available.
Areas of priority include individuals who live or work in facilities that provide care to Elders; Elders age 70 and older; health care workers; and adults in Indigenous communities. The committee recommends ethical decision making, including transparent communication about vaccine allocation decisions. If we make decisions with fairness, equity and concern for the most vulnerable in mind, we will all benefit from increased immunity in our society.
Building immunity takes time
People who are vaccinated gain protection from a disease without having to risk being exposed to the virus and the serious consequences of getting sick. Research on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has found that is 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19 beginning two weeks after the second of two doses. For the vaccine to work best, the two doses are administered four weeks apart. This means that people may not be fully protected against COVID-19 until at least six weeks after the first dose.
We don’t yet know what level of immunity in the population is sufficient to achieve community immunity, also known as herd immunity. This is when a large portion of a population is immune to a disease. If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, then the virus has nowhere to go and it essentially disappears. Until we know for sure, public health experts urge all Canadians to continue to wash their hands, stay home when sick, maintain physical distancing, and wear a face mask when going out, even after being vaccinated.
Building immunity is hard work for your body
Like any medication or supplement (including vitamins), vaccines can cause physical reactions. These can last a few hours to a few weeks after vaccination. This is the body’s natural response as it is working hard to build immunity against the disease. These reactions shouldn’t disrupt daily activities and can be treated if needed.
The potential effects are mild or moderate. They include things like pain at the site of injection, body chills, feeling tired and feeling feverish. These are common responses to vaccines and do not pose a risk to health. Your health care provider will ask you to stay in the clinic for at least 15 minutes after vaccination. This is to monitor for abnormal or unexpected reactions and deal with them quickly.
As with all vaccines, there’s a chance that there will be a serious side effect, but these are rare. A serious side effect might be something like an allergic reaction. Speak with your health professional about any serious allergies or other health conditions you may have before you receive any vaccine.
Protecting your community is the right thing to do
Vaccination is a choice you should make to protect yourself, your family and your community. It is part of good health and important for the prevention of serious disease. In Canada, you have the right to receive the vaccine when it is your time, and you have the right not to be vaccinated. But deciding against vaccination may leave you vulnerable to contracting serious illness and infecting others who are close to you.
Your decision to be vaccinated contributes to the collective health of your community’s immunity, making it safer for babies, children and people with compromised immune systems who are not able to receive the vaccine. If there are reasons related to your personal health situation that make it unadvisable for you to receive the vaccine, you can receive the benefit of protection when more people around you are vaccinated over time through community immunity or herd immunity.
While there are certainly things you can do to protect yourself from contracting COVID-19, including washing your hands, going out only for essential items, and wearing a mask, there is currently no alternative to the protection a vaccine provides.
Not all sources of information are equal
To make the best choices for you and your family and better understand evolving public health advice, take care to seek established sources of information, ideally sources directly linked to experts in public health. It is normal to have questions. There is an overwhelming amount of information available from multiple sources, which can be confusing. Some of the information you hear may be contradictory, false or misleading.
False or misleading information can spread as fast as a virus. Support better understanding about vaccines in your community by considering the source of all new information you receive, verifying the sources of that information, not sharing information linked to sources without expertise in public health, and asking your public health office if you have any questions about vaccination.
New variants of the virus have emerged
Viruses constantly change, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes they emerge and disappear. Other times, they emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented globally during this pandemic. Scientists are working to learn more about how easily they spread, whether they could cause more severe illness, and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect us against them.
Vaccine makers can re-tool currently approved COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that the vaccines are effective against any new variants. Rigorous and increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, continues to be essential to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 and protect public health.