Great news! The COVID-19 vaccines are finally here in New Brunswick! But can you get it? And if you can, which ones are available?
There are currently four COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada. The first two are the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, which are available to those above the age of 16 (Pfizer) or 18 (Moderna). Both these vaccines use a messenger RNA platform. What does that mean?
Within the last two months, Canada has approved the use of two other COVID-19 vaccines - the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Both are approved for those aged 16 and older. Both these vaccines are viral vectors, but the Johnson & Johnson one is administered as a single dose, while the others are on a two-dose schedule. Vector virus vaccines use a harmless modified version of a different virus to deliver instructions to our cells that, in turn, develop the immune response.
All four vaccines are shown to be effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. Due to the importance of mass immunization to achieve herd immunity, it is recommended to receive any of the four vaccines when available: however, for two-dose vaccines, it is important to have the same vaccine for both doses. Since the two newer vaccines are virus vector-based, we encourage those with pre-existing conditions to consult their primary care provider to determine which vaccine is best for them.
Clinical trials have shown that the vaccines are both effective and safe, but there will always be a small risk of adverse events. Generally, all vaccines were well tolerated across all populations with no serious safety concerns. The most common reactions included pain at the injection site and mild swelling, fever, fatigue, headache, chills and muscle soreness. Symptoms are generally mild to moderate and occur in the first three days of vaccination. They resolve within one to three days. Overall, symptoms are more frequent and severe following the second dose and among younger people compared to older people.
Those who should not receive any COVID-19 vaccine are people who have had:
- a previous immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine such as hives, swelling, trouble breathing or anaphylaxis (emergency) within four hours of administration;
- an allergic reaction after a previous dose, or to a component, of the COVID-19 vaccine;
- an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is an ingredient in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines;
- an allergy to polysorbate 80, which is an ingredient in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
I’m pregnant, can I get the vaccine?
Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe illness or and death from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant individuals. Also, pregnant women may be at increased risk for other adverse outcomes such as preeclampsia or preterm delivery. Because of these risks, the prevention of severe COVID-19 infection is essential to both mom and baby. Based on current knowledge, experts believe the COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to a pregnant woman or baby. However, data on vaccine safety during pregnancy are limited. Please see your primary care provider for recommendations if pregnant.
What about my son who is 18? Can he get the vaccine?
Adolescents aged 16 and older are eligible to receive most of the COVID-19 vaccines (but not the Moderna vaccine). Children and adolescents younger than 16 are not authorized to receive any COVID-19 vaccine at this time.
What about the viral variants? Will I be protected if I get the vaccine?
Unfortunately, viral mutations often occur naturally. Similar to the influenza virus which mutates yearly, the COVID-19 virus has already mutated a few times resulting in new variants. Currently, we are not sure what effect the vaccines will have on the variants. The UK and South African strains are the major circulating variants at this time; however, there is good news as those particular mutations are key targets of our current available vaccines.
I have an auto-immune condition. Can I get the vaccine?
A lot of questions have been asked about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine in people with autoimmune disorders or who are immunosuppressed. Recommendations suggest these individuals should receive the vaccine. Common examples of auto-immune conditions are Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and vasculitis. Examples of immunosuppressed individuals include organ transplant recipients and people who are on immunosuppressive therapy, undergoing cancer treatments, HIV infection, biologics or long-term steroid therapy.
Although people with auto-immune conditions or immunosuppression were not largely included in the studies, people with these conditions are encouraged to be vaccinated due to the expected benefit. If you are immunosuppressed, there may be a lowered response to the vaccine; however, you should still experience some degree of protection.
If you are unsure if you have an auto-immune disorder or are immunosuppressed, speak with your primary care provider. The main concern is that individuals with these conditions are considered more vulnerable, and some patients may have a higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.
Can I take a Tylenol before my vaccine?
Routine Tylenol before the vaccine to prevent soreness is currently not recommended. Research has not been able to identify what Tylenol would do to the antibody response.
What can I take for any symptoms I may get?
For all current COVID-19 vaccines, medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can be taken afterwards for the treatment of symptoms.
Anaphylactic reactions (severe allergic reactions) rarely occur with the COVID-19 vaccine. Taking an antihistamine (Benadryl) before to prevent any reactions is not recommended as antihistamines (Benadryl) do not prevent anaphylaxis.
While COVID-19 vaccinations have demonstrated high efficacy at preventing severe and/or symptomatic COVID-19, there is limited information on how much the vaccines might reduce transmission or how long protection lasts. Therefore, at this time, people should continue to follow current guidelines to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least two metres (six feet) away from others, washing hands frequently, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, as well as covering coughs and sneezes.
What are COVID-19 symptoms?
If you develop any of the following symptoms, you should get tested:
- New cough or cough that is getting worse
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- New onset fatigue
- New onset muscle pain
- Loss of taste or smell
How do I get tested?
To get tested, please call Tele-Care 811 or go to the Government of New Brunswick webpage and click on the COVID-19 link and take the self assessment. If you are recommended to get tested, public health will be in contact with you. Or, contact your primary care provider, who can assess you over the phone and refer you.
[Ed. note. The Albert County Pharmacy recommends that people register for the COVID-19 vaccine at the website: AlbertCountyPharmacy.medmeapp.ca/schedule.]
When can I get my vaccine?
Currently the Government of New Brunswick is in Stage 1 of the vaccine roll out plan. Currently, Pharmacies are offering the Covid-19 vaccine to individuals 85 years and older. Please contact your local pharmacy to request an appointment. As well, Health Authorities are currently vaccinating health care workers and health system staff. The speed of rollout will depend on vaccine availability as we know this can vary.
For the full vaccine rollout plan, please visit the GNB website (www.gnb.ca) and click the COVID-19 link, followed by the vaccine link.
Michael Hewey, MN NP, is a Nurse Practitioner at Horizon’s Albert County Community Health Centre.