Last updated: November 29, 2021 at 9:38 a.m.
COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune system to make antibodies that protect us from the COVID-19 virus. These antibodies will provide protection from getting, spreading, and becoming severely sick with COVID-19. None of the vaccines contain COVID-19 and cannot give us the virus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are called ‘messenger RNA’ or ‘mRNA’ vaccines. They use mRNA to give our cells instructions to make antibodies. The mRNA does not change our DNA. Watch a video from the Government of Canada for more information on how mRNA vaccines work.
The AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines are called ‘viral vector’ vaccines. They use a modified cold virus to give our cells instructions to make antibodies. The cold virus in the vaccine is inactive and will not make us sick.
mRNA and viral vector vaccines use technology that has been around for over 10 years. The mRNA provides instructions to our immune system to make antibodies.
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. To be considered fully vaccinated, The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines require two doses, and one dose for the Janssen vaccine.
Studies on how long protection lasts in the general population are ongoing and booster doses may be recommended in the future.
COVID-19 vaccines were developed without skipping any safety steps. This was possible because of advances in science, international collaboration and increased funding.
The COVID-19 vaccines used in Ontario have been fully approved by Health Canada. They have met the same safety and quality standards required for all vaccines, and have been tested in large clinical trials to show they are safe and they work. No steps were skipped in the approval process.
Canada has one of the best vaccine safety programs. Vaccines must pass many safety tests before they are considered to be safe for people. Health Canada authorizes vaccines only when there is sufficient scientific and clinical evidence that they are safe, effective, and are manufactured to the highest quality standard. There are several systems in place to monitor the vaccine’s safety.
Everyone born 2016 or earlier is currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The optimal interval between the first and second dose is 8 weeks for a mRNA vaccine and at least 8 weeks for an AstraZeneca vaccine.
Ministry of Health (2021). COVID-19 Vaccine Administration, Version 2.0.
Until most people are vaccinated (herd immunity), you still need to:
Health care workers and staff must still wear personal protective equipment (PPE), even after they get their vaccine.
Learn more about how to reduce virus spread.
Like all medicine, some people may have side effects from the vaccine. If these side effects happen they usually last for 1 to 3 days.
Common side effects:
Some side effects are more common after the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
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.
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 allergies to any of the vaccine ingredients should not get the vaccine. If you get a serious reaction after your first dose, do not get the second dose. Talk to your health care provider if you are unsure about which ingredients you are allergic to.
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 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).
Pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine
Pregnant individuals are able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at any point in their pregnancy. Many people who are pregnant have gotten very sick from COVID-19 requiring hospitalization and critical care. Getting vaccinated is safe and an important way to be protected in pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have questions about getting vaccinated and to understand benefits of getting the vaccine compared to the risks of getting the COVID-19 infection. For many people, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the safest choice.
The Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists of Canada also recommends pregnant people get vaccinated in pregnancy. Many pregnant people who get COVID-19 can have mild symptoms. However, especially with the new variants spreading in Ontario, some can get very sick and develop respiratory complications that need care in the hospital. Giving birth too early in pregnancy (preterm birth) may be more common.
Vaccines can protect against these variants and lower the risk of severe illness while pregnant. All COVID-19 vaccines are safe in pregnancy and are being used around the world.
If you are planning on becoming pregnant, it is recommended to get both doses of the vaccine ahead of pregnancy (where possible) when it’s available to you. There is no evidence that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine.
If you are pregnant or become pregnant soon after getting the first dose of the vaccine you will have to decide if you should get the second dose. The decision should be made by looking at the risks of not being completely vaccinated during pregnancy.
While COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials did not include people who were pregnant or breastfeeding, many people who are pregnant and have been vaccinated are being followed to ensure the vaccine continues to be safe.
Watch North York General Hospital’s video on getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy:
Source: North York General Hospital
Breastfeeding has many benefits for you and your baby including protecting your baby against many illnesses. The Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists of Canada recommends vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding people who do not have any medical conditions that prevent them from getting the vaccine.
There is no need to avoid starting breastfeeding or to stop breastfeeding to receive the vaccine. Getting the vaccine can help protect you from becoming sick with COVID-19 and passing it to your baby.
Some studies have shown that antibodies were found in the breastmilk of people who received the COVID-19 vaccine which may protect their infant. More studies are needed to determine how much protection this offers. While people who are breastfeeding were not included in most of the vaccine clinical trials, the vaccines are considered safe for people who are breastfeeding because of the way the vaccines work in the body.
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.
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.
People of all levels of ability can get COVID-19. Some people with disabilities may be at higher risk of getting COVID-19. For example, those who require daily service provision or who reside in congregate care settings may be at higher risk.
Most people should get a COVID-19 vaccine. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Review information about Vaccine Eligibility to see if you can get your COVID-19 vaccine now. Caregivers may also be able to get the vaccine at the same time.
See the interactive map of the City Immunization Clinics to find clinic locations and information about accessibility and accommodations.
Bring your mobility device with you to the appointment, if you use one. One support person can accompany you, if needed. See What to Expect at City Immunization Clinics for more information.
If you need help to get to the vaccination clinic, see Transportation to Clinics.
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.
Visit our COVID-19 Children and Vaccines webpage for more information.
People who have had COVID-19 in the past should still get vaccinated. Natural immunity from having COVID-19 may not last long and may not protect against COVID-19 variants. Get vaccinated to stay protected.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, should not go to a vaccine clinic. Please wait at least 10 days until you are no longer in self-isolation or your symptoms have gone away.
|Pfizer BioNTech||mRNA||12 years +||2 doses||Available|
|Pediatric Pfizer BioNTech||mRNA||5-11 years||2 doses||Awaiting vaccine arrival to City of Toronto|
|Moderna||mRNA||12 years +||2 doses||Available|
|AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD||Viral vector||40 years +||2 doses||On pause|
|Janssen||Viral vector||18 years +||1 dose||Only by referral|
All adverse events investigated by Toronto Public Health are forwarded to the province, then to Public Health Agency of Canada. Adverse events are also compared internationally.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Public Health Ontario are closely monitoring rare reports of potential myocarditis/pericarditis following a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, including those among youth. In Canada, there have been a small number of these reports and no conclusive association has been established between myocarditis/pericarditis and mRNA vaccines at this point in time.
To date, Public Health Ontario has received reports of a small number of cases of myocarditis/pericarditis among youth 12 to 17 years of age in Ontario. At this early time, the small number of cases seen among adolescents to date in Ontario have been mild and have resolved without any concerns about potential long-term complications.
On August 27, 2021 Health Canada authorized the use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 and over. After a thorough review of the current global and Canadian experience and vaccine safety surveillance data, Ontario will continue using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for youth ages 12-17 (including those turning 12 in 2021). In this age group, there is more experience and possibly a lower rate of myocarditis/pericarditis to date with this vaccine.
As of September 29, 2021, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health recommends that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is preferred for individuals aged 18-24 years old. This recommendation is due to an observed increase in Ontario of pericarditis/myocarditis following vaccination with Moderna compared to Pfizer in the 18 to 24 year old age group, particularly among males. The majority of reported cases have been mild with individuals recovering quickly, normally with anti-inflammatory medication. Symptoms have typically been reported to start within one week after vaccination, more commonly after the second dose. Individuals 18-24 years old can still receive the Moderna vaccine with informed consent.
As of November 19, 2021, Health Canada authorized the use of Pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends a complete series of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccine is safe and effective for the 5–11 age group.
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 an mRNA vaccine:
Vaccination continues to be recommended for everyone 5 years of age and older, considering the long-term effects and serious complications related to a COVID-19 infection.
For individuals who experience myocarditis/pericarditis after receiving a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, the decision to administer a second dose of the vaccine should be made on a case-by-case basis, until further data on this condition and the possible causality between mRNA vaccines and myocarditis/pericarditis is available.
Speak to your health care provider if you have questions about getting a mRNA vaccine.