This week, healthcare workers and residents in long-term care in the United Kingdom were among the first in the world to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Today, Health Canada announced its approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in our country, with an expected 249,000 doses of the vaccine to be made available by the end of December, marking the launch of the largest inoculation campaigns in Canada’s history.

Right here in British Columbia, it was announced that the initial rollout of the vaccine would begin the week of December 14th, with 4,000 doses being administered to those who work in long-term care followed by other healthcare workers in addition to long-term care residents and individuals over the age of 80 who are at high-risk for COVID-19. Naturally, because COVID-19 is not something we’ve ever really seen the likes of before and because this is a new vaccine, Canadians have questions – the first and foremost being whether or not the vaccine is safe, along with its rate of effectiveness.

Is the vaccine safe?

Health Canada has carefully reviewed data related to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and continue to track and review data on this and other vaccines (such as the Moderna vaccine) to ensure that it is safe for Canadians, and are fully confident with the information brought forth – thus resulting in the vaccine’s approval in this country.

That being said, as with any vaccine or medication that is administered, there’s always the chance that one could develop an adverse reaction or side-effects – especially given the fact that it is a new vaccine. In the U.K., for example, two healthcare workers developed adverse reactions after being administered the vaccine. As a result, Britain’s medical regulator advised individuals who have a history of significant allergic reactions to vaccines, medications, or foods to avoid it for the time being until they investigated further. However, Canadian health officials have not changed their recommendations at this time and will continue to monitor this and any other unusual developments associated with the vaccine closely.

How effective is the vaccine?

According to final analysis of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it was found to be up to 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection – and that efficiency was also found to be consistent across age and race demographics.

Is the vaccine approved for everyone?

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have not been approved for women who are pregnant, individuals who are immunocompromised (such as those with cancer), or children under the age of 16. In cases where a child is considered to be at an extremely high-risk for contracting COVID-19 with serious health outcomes as a result, or in cases where children have severe neuro-disabilities, then rare special allowance may be a possibility.

Once vaccinated, do masks still need to be worn?

Yes. As we don’t yet know exactly how the vaccine will work, we all need to ensure that we don’t become lax with news of the vaccine and instead make sure that we continue to use all of the layers of protection that we have come to know work in preventing the spread of COVID-19, such as washing our hands regularly, staying six feet apart from others, staying home when we’re sick, and, of course, wearing face masks in all indoor public places.

How many doses of the vaccine are required?

When it comes to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, 2 doses will be required in order for its full effectiveness to be achieved. Following the first dose of the vaccine, the second will be administered approximately 3 weeks (21 days) later.

Click here to learn more about B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan.