Last updated: June 1, 2022 at 4:38 p.m.
It is recommended that everyone age 5 years and older get and stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination, including any booster dose(s) when eligible, for the best protection against getting very sick from COVID-19. See COVID-19: Where to Get Vaccinated to find a vaccine clinic near you.
COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune system to make antibodies that protect us from the COVID-19 virus. Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination, including any booster dose(s) when eligible, will reduce the risk of getting, spreading, and becoming seriously sick with COVID-19. It can also help lower the risk of long COVID. None of the vaccines contain COVID-19 and cannot give you the virus.
The vaccine doses are given using a needle in your upper arm. It takes at least two weeks after getting a vaccine dose to be protected. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax, Medicago and AstraZeneca vaccines require two doses to complete a primary series, and one dose for the Janssen vaccine. Boosters are required for the best protection for anyone 12 years of age and older.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are ‘messenger RNA’ or ‘mRNA’ vaccines. They use mRNA to give our cells instructions to make antibodies. The mRNA does not change our DNA. mRNA vaccines are interchangeable – take the first vaccine that is available to you, regardless of any previous doses.
Health Canada authorized three mRNA vaccines in Canada:
Learn more on how the mRNA vaccines work.
In Canada, there have been rare reports of myocarditis/pericarditis after getting a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. The situation is being closely monitored. Most people who have gotten myocarditis/pericarditis after vaccination has had a mild illness and symptoms went away without any concerns about long-term complications. A COVID-19 infection can cause a much more serious myocarditis/pericarditis. For this reason, vaccination is still recommended as the benefits outweigh the risks.
In alignment with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Ontario’s Ministry of Health issued a preferential recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for youth aged 12-29 years old. This is due to an observed increase in Ontario of pericarditis/myocarditis following vaccination with Moderna compared to Pfizer, especially in young adult and teen males. People who are 18-29 years old can still get the Moderna vaccine with informed consent.
Myocarditis/pericarditis is even rarer in children 5 to 11 years of age following the Pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech. Millions of doses have been given to children around the world showing this vaccine is very safe in children. This continues to be closely monitored. While less common, COVID-19 infections in children can lead to serious complications in children, including in healthy children. For this reason, vaccination is still recommended as the benefits outweigh the risks.
Toronto Public Health closely monitors COVID-19 vaccine safety alongside federal and provincial public health agencies to ensure vaccines continue to be safe.
Most side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are mild and last for 1-3 days.
Severe side effects are rare. Get medical attention right away if you develop any of these symptoms after receiving a vaccine:
The Novavax Nuvaxovid vaccine (also known as Novavax) was authorized for use by Health Canada on February 17, 2022, for adults aged 18+.
For adults (18+) unable (due to allergy) or unwilling to get an mRNA vaccine, Novavax Nuvaxovid is another option instead of a mRNA vaccine.
Novavax is a ‘protein subunit’ vaccine. It uses small pieces of a protein that look like the spikes on the COVID-19 virus. These proteins teach our immune system to make antibodies that recognize and fight COVID-19.
Some people may have side effects from this vaccine are mild to moderate, and last one to three days. Common side effects include redness, pain or swelling at the injection site, mild fever, headache, feeling tired, muscle aches, joint pain, nausea and/or vomiting. Contact your health provider if side effects do not go away after 3 days.
Myocarditis and pericarditis are types of inflammation in different parts of the heart that can occur after getting COVID-19 and be serious. This has rarely occurred after getting Novavax and is being closely monitored. Get medical attention if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or racing heartbeat after vaccination.
People with a serious allergy to another COVID-19 vaccine or polyethylene glycol (PEG) can consider getting Novavax.
The Novavax vaccine is available at all City-run clinics through appointment only.
Health Canada approved the Medicago vaccine (also known as Covifenz) on February 24, 2022, for adults 18 to 64 years of age.
The Medicago vaccine is a plant-based vaccine. It uses virus-like particles (VLP) that look like the COVID-19 virus and teach our immune system to make antibodies that recognize and fight COVID-19.
This vaccine is currently not available in Canada.
Like all medicine, some people may have side effects from the vaccine. If these side effects happen they usually last for one to three days.
Common side effects:
Some side effects are more common after the second dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, Medicago and Novavax vaccines. Get medical attention if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or racing heartbeat after vaccination.
After your vaccine please stay at the clinic for 15 minutes. You will be monitored for any reactions. In very rare cases, serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) can occur. Allergic reactions can be treated and are usually temporary. Get medical attention if you get allergic reactions such as hives, itching, swelling of the face and throat, and/or trouble breathing.
An AEFI is any time you feel unwell more than what you were told to expect after receiving a vaccine. If you think you are experiencing an AEFI, contact your health care provider and let them know you feel unwell and recently received a vaccine.
AEFIs are reported by your health care provider to Toronto Public Health (TPH), who helps your provider investigate if your illness was caused by the vaccination. TPH reports AEFIs to the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, and the Public Health Agency of Canada to make sure that vaccines are as safe as possible, even after they are approved. Companies that produce vaccines do not help with investigations of AEFIs, but they are aware of reports for the safety of their products.
The vaccine contains an active ingredient that gives our body instructions to make antibodies. Other vaccine ingredients include lipids (fats), salts, sugars and buffers.
COVID-19 vaccines do not contain eggs, gelatin (pork), gluten, latex, preservatives, antibiotics or aluminum.
People with severe allergies to any of the vaccine ingredients should speak with their physician/allergist about getting the vaccine. Some people with allergies to an ingredient can still be safely vaccinated.
If you get a serious reaction after your first dose, talk to your health care provider about future vaccinations. Sometimes you can still be safely vaccinated, or can received a different vaccine.
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is in the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. PEG can also be found in laxatives, makeup, skin care products, personal lubricants, toothpastes, and some contact lenses. It is also in cough syrup, over-the-counter medications, and in some food and drinks.
Tromethamine is in the Pediatric Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccine. It helps to make the vaccine stable. Tromethamine can be found in dyes used for CT or MRI scans, medications, cosmetics, perfumes and skin creams.
Polysorbate-80 is in the Novavax (NUVAXOVID), Medicago Covifenz, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines. It is used to hold (or bind) the vaccine ingredients together. Polysorbate-80 can be found in most processed food, sauces, condiments, soups, ice cream, chewing gum, soaps, creams, bath gels, shampoo, body butter, cosmetics, vitamins, heart medication and contraceptives (birth control).
Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about getting vaccinated and to understand the benefits of getting the vaccine compared to the risks of getting the COVID-19 infection. For most people, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the safest choice.
See COVID-19: Where to Get Vaccinated to find a vaccine clinic near you
Watch North York General Hospital’s video on getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy:
Source: North York General Hospital
There is no evidence the vaccines impact fertility, menstrual irregularities, puberty, or normal growth and development.
The main ingredient in the vaccine is mRNA and that lasts in your body for a few days before it is removed from the body. The body develops an immune response in the first few weeks after vaccination. Some may have a temporary change in their menstrual cycle because of this immune response. A menstrual cycle can also temporarily change from everyday life including stress, changes in weight and exercise. The World Health Organization recommends not delaying vaccination if menstruating.
A COVID-19 infection can also affect menstruation. For example, in one study, one out of five patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection had temporary changes in the length of their cycle and the amount of bleeding.
People with stable health conditions can get vaccinated. Conditions include: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory diseases, including asthma or COPD, hepatitis B, C and HIV.
People with a weak immune system because of illness, treatment or an autoimmune condition:
People taking medication that make their immune system weak may be able to schedule their vaccine and treatment to get the best protection.
Other helpful resources can be found on the COVID-19: Vaccine Resources page, including an American Sign Language translation of information about COVID-19 vaccines. Also see this video on Getting Ready for Your COVID Vaccine.
On November 19, 2021, Health Canada authorized the use of Pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech because it is safe and effective for children age 5 to 11.
On March 17, 2022 a half dose of Moderna Spikevax (also known as Moderna) was authorized for use in children aged 6 to 11 years of age.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children.
Visit COVID-19 Children and Vaccines page for more information.