What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

Ensuring that as many Nova Scotians as possible are vaccinated against COVID-19 is a vital part of eradicating the virus, so we can return to spending time with loved ones, travelling and enjoying life without physical distancing.

It’s natural to have questions about the vaccine options that are available to you. Read on for information about the COVID-19 vaccines currently being provided in Nova Scotia.

Note: As of May 12, the Nova Scotia government has paused the use of AstraZeneca vaccine due to the increase in supply of mRNA vaccines and an observed increase in the risk of blood clots from the vaccine. This is out of an abundance of caution; there have not been reports of Nova Scotians getting blood clots from this vaccine. Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang is waiting to see what the recommendation is for the second dose for Nova Scotians who received a first dose of AstraZeneca. 

Researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. are studying possible benefits of alternating AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots. Mixing vaccines may give a stronger immune response, particularly against virus variants. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is reviewing the research.

Pfizer-BioNTech Moderna AstraZeneca*
Type mRNA mRNA Viral vector-based vaccine
Age range Adults 18+ Adults 18+ Adults 40+
How is it given? 2 injections, 2 weeks to 4 months apart 2 injections, 2 weeks to 4 months apart 2 injections, 2 weeks to 4 months apart
Are there side effects? Mild or moderate; including pain at injection site, chills, feeling tired or feverish, headache, joint and muscle pain, diarrhea Mild or moderate; including pain at injection site, chills, feeling tired or feverish, headache, joint and muscle pain, nausea or vomiting Mild or moderate; including pain at injection site, chills, feeling tired or feverish, headache, joint and muscle pain, nausea or vomiting
Available where? At pharmacies and community clinics; access granted in 5-year age blocks At pharmacies and community clinics; access granted in 5-year age blocks *As of May 12, this vaccine is not available in Nova Scotia. 


What’s the difference between an mRNA vaccine and a viral vector-based vaccine?
Both types of vaccine trigger an immune response in your body, but the way they trigger that response is different. mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein without using the live virus that causes COVID-19. This protein triggers an immune response, causing your body to make antibodies. These antibodies help you fight the infection if the real virus does enter your body in the future. (Read more about messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.)

Viral vector-based vaccines use a harmless “vector” virus as a delivery system. When a person is given the vaccine, the vector virus contained within the vaccine produces the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. This protein will not make you sick. Through this process, your body is able to build a strong immune response against the spike protein without exposing you to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?
Yes, COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are safe. While they were developed more rapidly than past vaccines, that’s because time was of the essence. The safety of the vaccines was proven in large clinical trials, and there is now even more evidence available, as hundreds of millions of doses have now been given worldwide. Health Canada’s approval process is rigorous. With nearly 100 different vaccines in development, Canada has so far approved four that have all the necessary clinical trials and safety data. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada continue to monitor the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, providing weekly updates.

What about side effects?
You may experience side effects after receiving a vaccination, but good news: these show that your body has been triggered to give an immune response – in other words, the vaccine is working! You may experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms for a few days after your vaccination. You can treat the symptoms with rest, hydration and common over-the-counter medications.

There is a very low risk – 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 250,000 – that people who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine will get a blood clot. (Note: the risk of getting a regular blood clot is 1 in 5 for people hospitalized with COVID-19.) The blood clot condition, called vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) is treatable. While incredibly rare, the blood clot side effect could appear four to 20 days after immunization. Seek immediate medical assistance if you have a severe headache that does not go away; a seizure; difficulty moving part of your body; new blurry vision that does not go away; difficulty speaking; shortness of breath; chest pain; severe abdominal pain; new severe swelling, pain, or notice that one of your arms or legs has changed colour.

When can I get vaccinated?
After ensuring that elderly people, high-risk populations and health-care providers were vaccinated, Nova Scotia has taken an age-based approach to the vaccine roll-out. Each week, a new group of Nova Scotians become eligible to book their vaccine. Learn more about the age categories, vaccination schedule and how to book your shot right here.

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Nova Scotia quick links

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19
List of COVID-19 exposures in Nova Scotia
Getting tested for COVID-19
Public Health mobile testing unit locations
Rapid testing locations
Self-isolating guidelines
Mental health and well-being

Nova Scotia COVID-19 resources
Download the free COVID Alert app

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