Understanding COVID-19 Vaccination Program

Phoenix, Arizona (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Phoenix, Arizona (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Finally, COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Alberta. The lineup has begun and the process will take a few months to complete. This is happening in phases so people most at risk get it first. We just have to be patient and wait our turn.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. The vaccine helps prevent you from getting infected and protects you from getting severely sick if you do get it.

There are at least seven different vaccines. The first mass vaccination programme started in some countries in early December 2020 and as of February 15, 2021, 175.3 million vaccine doses have been administered.

Canada has approved three vaccines: Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (efficacy rate 94 per cent – need two doses), Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (efficacy rate 95 per cent – need two doses) and recently approved AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine (efficacy rate of 62 per cent – need two doses).

While AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at preventing infection, the shot is 100 per cent effective in preventing the severe outcomes of COVID-19 — including serious illness, hospitalizations and death.

This is better than not having a vaccine. Same principle applies to flu vaccines. They are never 100 per cent effective. Flu vaccines, which differ each year depending on the flu strain in circulation, are typically 54 to 64 per cent effective, yet they are widely used to offer some level of protection to more people.

Other advantage of AstraZeneca vaccine is, unlike the other two vaccines which require freezing facilities, AstraZeneca does not require the same cold storage equipment necessary for the other two. The product can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temperatures of 2 to 8 C for at least six months. This vaccine also can be easily administered in traditional health care settings, like a doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Government of Canada is expecting more supplies of vaccines and by Canada Day several million people will be vaccinated. That is the plan. The plan is to prevent serious illness, reduce hospitalizations and reduce the number of deaths.

What about the second shot of the vaccine? It will be after four to 12 weeks. Most likely 12 weeks. I don’t think the final decision is out yet but early evidence suggest it’s best to wait the full 12 weeks to deploy the second shot.

How long does the immunity last? It’s too early to know. Research is ongoing to answer this question. You should continue to use face mask and avoid close contact and practice good hygiene.

COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines: Spacing recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has published the following recommendations:

  • COVID-19 vaccines should not be given simultaneously with any other vaccines.
  • Wait for a period of at least 28 days between the administration of the complete two-dose schedule of COVID-19 vaccine and the administration of another vaccine (except in the case where another vaccine is required for post-exposure prophylaxis). This includes refraining from administering other vaccines between the first and second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Wait for a period of at least 14 days after the administration of another vaccine before administering a COVID-19 vaccine.

Take care and be safe.

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