Almost as soon as the residents and staff in our long term care homes and retirement residents started to be vaccinated, we saw the difference they made. Within weeks, infections among residents and staff dropped precipitously.
Nonetheless, as younger seniors and other priority groups approach the top of the vaccine waiting list, some still feel hesitant. Given that there’s so much misinformation circulating, I’d like to address some myths about the COVID-19 vaccines and provide you with answers from reliable sources.
Myth: The vaccines don’t work on the new COVID-19 variants.
Fact: The COVID-19 vaccines are expected to provide some protection against new virus variants. Health Canada is monitoring the emerging variants closely and will work with vaccine manufacturers and public health laboratories to mitigate the risks and inform Canadians.
Myth: The vaccines are too new and haven’t been sufficiently tested.
Fact: The AstraZeneca and Jannsen vaccines are viral vector vaccines, which is a more traditional type of vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which is a newer vaccine technology. All of these vaccines trigger an immune response. This immune response produces antibodies that will recognize the real virus if it enters our bodies. Thousands of scientists have been working on this since the virus was first discovered.
The reason we have the COVID-19 vaccines so quickly, compared to other vaccines, is that scientists, researchers, health professionals and governments from all over the world worked together with a sense of urgency. The vaccines and research documentation have been carefully reviewed by Health Canada and have passed all safety standards. Now, with millions of vaccines delivered, scientists are collecting more evidence in real time that is further supporting the use of vaccines.
Myth: The long-term consequences of the vaccines could be harmful.
Fact: Because of the way they work in the body, long term effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely. Remember that vaccination is widely considered to be one of the greatest public health achievements in history. Without vaccines, we would still be living with devastating illnesses like polio, tuberculosis and smallpox.
Vaccine safety is continually monitored by Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, local public health authorities, vaccine manufacturers and the Ministries of Health in Canada’s provinces and territories.
Myth: The mRNA vaccines are based on an unproven technology.
Fact: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Researchers have been studying mRNA vaccines for decades. mRNA vaccines teach your body how to fight off the ‘spike’ protein that surrounds the COVID-19 virus. Once your body learns that, the mRNA is removed and there is no vaccine left, but your body will be able to recognize and fight the real virus when it comes along. The process is explained in this infographic by the CDC.
Myth: The side effects of the vaccine are worse than getting COVID-19.
Fact: COVID-19 is a deadly disease and we need to act now to stop its spread, including adopting a nation-wide vaccination program.
Many people experience only mild symptoms of COVID-19, but some get very sick. More than 22,700 Canadians have died with COVID-19.
There is also an emerging condition known as post-acute COVID syndrome or “long COVID,” which results in prolonged COVID symptoms after the typical recovery time. Symptoms have been reported up to six months after infection and include persistent cough, loss of taste and smell, headaches, muscle aches, memory problems and severe fatigue. In one study, more than 50 per cent of patients experienced at least one clinically relevant symptom or had abnormalities on a chest x-ray more than 77 days beyond infection.
Side effects from a vaccine are your body’s way of learning how to recognize a virus and fight it off. They are generally very mild and go away within a day or two. Side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are more likely after the second dose and may include pain or redness where you got the shot, headache, feeling tired and muscle aches and joint pain.
Some people may experience more serious reactions to the vaccine, but these are very unlikely and tracked closely by Health Canada as part of on-going monitoring of vaccine safety.
Myth: The vaccine could affect my pregnancy, fertility or breastfeeding.
Fact: Pregnancy is actually a risk factor for more severe COVID symptoms that may require hospitalization. That’s why some provinces have prioritized pregnant women to receive the vaccine. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has said that individuals planning a pregnancy should be vaccinated before becoming pregnant if possible. Further, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that there is no evidence or theoretical reason that the vaccines would affect fertility.
Myth: One of the vaccines could increase my risk of blood clots or stroke.
Fact: Thrombosis Canada has reviewed the evidence and has strongly recommended that people receive vaccinations for COVID-19, including the vaccine made by AstraZeneca. The president of Thrombosis Canada has said that “the benefits of preventing blood clots and other disease caused by COVID-19 far outweigh any possible risks, which we consider very low.” Read Thrombosis Canada’s full statement.
It’s smart to ask questions. When you look for answers, please turn to reliable sources. I’m certain that when you take a look at the science, you’ll be reassured that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. There’s no question that they are saving lives in our long term care homes and retirement residences, and they’re protecting the people who work in senior living and their families. For that – for the marvels of modern science – we are incredibly grateful.