COVID-19 Vaccine - Answers for Patients

Answers for patients

With COVID-19 vaccines currently being administered in BC, many of you will have questions about the vaccine – who gets it and when; is it safe; is it effective and more.

We hope that the following information answers some of those questions, as we all wait for further news about how the vaccine will roll out across our province. 

Please note that the information on this web page is based on updates from the BCCDC the Provincial Health Officer, and the provincial government.

Have a question that’s not included on this page? Check out ImmunizeBC’s COVID-19 vaccine frequently asked questions.  

When will the general population start to get the vaccine?
  • People aged 80 and over living in the community are expected to be vaccinated starting in March (Phase 2)
  • Mass vaccinations begin in April (Phases 3 and 4) and are based on age.
  • More details of the four phases can be found here.
What is the timing for when I will get my vaccine?

The timeline for vaccinations may change depending on vaccine supply. Currently the schedule is as follows:

Phase 1 | December – February

  • Residents, staff in long-term care and assisted-living residences.
  • Health care workers providing care for COVID-19 patients in settings such as intensive care units, emergency departments, medical/surgical units and paramedics.
  • Remote and isolated First Nations communities. 

Phase 2 | February – March

  • Hospital staff, community family doctors and medical specialists
  • Seniors over 80; Indigenous seniors (age 65+), and Indigenous elders.
  • People experiencing homelessness and/or using shelters.
  • Provincial correctional facilities.
  • Adults in group homes or mental health residential care.
  • Long term home support recipients and staff. 
  • Indigenous communities not vaccinated in first priority group.

Phase 3 | April - June

  • Ages 79 – 60 (in five year increments)
  • People aged 69 – 16 who are clinically extremely vulnerable

Phase 4 | July - September

  • Ages 59 – 18 (in five year increments)

More details on the vaccine roll-out can be found at the BCCDC website.

How do I know when I can be vaccinated?

Information will be widely shared when the time comes for the public to register for the vaccine.

Registration for seniors over 80 will be announced in late February. There will be a central phone number for seniors to call, in addition to an email address for registration.

The latest information on timing and vaccine delivery can be found at the BCCDC website.

Why is the delivery of vaccines based on age?  
  • In her announcement, the Provincial Health Officer referred to data that indicates that the older the person, the greater the risk for severe illness, hospitalization, or death due to COVID-19.
  • Older people are also more likely to have chronic health conditions, which increases their risk even further. 
What if I have an underlying medical condition?

People who are 69 – 16 years of age who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be eligible for the vaccine during Phase 3, due to their high risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

People who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ are:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers including of the blood or bone marrow such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
  • People with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem-cell transplants in the last six months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions, including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • People with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency, homozygous sickle cell disease)
  • People on immunosuppression therapies enough to significantly increase risk of infection (biologic modifiers, high-dose steroids, AZT, cyclophosphamide)
  • People who had a splenectomy (spleen removed)
  • Adults with very significant developmental disabilities that increase risk (details to come from the health ministry)
  • Adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (Stage 5)
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
  • Significant neuromuscular conditions requiring respiratory support.
Why will it take so long for everyone to get vaccinated?
  • Vaccination delivery is a complex undertaking.
  • Limited supplies, vaccine storage (sub-zero temperatures), and the two-dose regimen, all need to be considered when planning the roll-out of the vaccine across the province.
  • In the meantime, we ask that British Columbians remain patient, and continue to take measures to reduce the spread of the virus as they wait their turn for the vaccine.
Who is not approved for the vaccine at this time?
  • People under 18 are not approved for the vaccine at this time.
  • This recommendation may change as more evidence on safety and/or effectiveness in this population becomes available.
Who should seek further advice before getting the vaccine?

It is recommended that the following people consult with their health care provider to discuss if the benefits are greater than the possible risks from the COVID-19 vaccine. People who:

  • Have an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment
  • Have an autoimmune disease
  • Are pregnant, may be pregnant or are planning to become pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Have had a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine or any of the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

Recommendations may change as more evidence on safety and/or effectiveness in these populations becomes available.

Are the vaccines safe?
  • The vaccines are safe – regulators set the bar high to ensure the most rigorous standards are met.
  • Vaccine trials also included older people and those from different ethnic backgrounds.
  • It should be recognized that risks of the virus are significant, and far outweigh the possibility of serious side effects from the vaccination.
  • For more information, check out our article COVID-19 vaccines:are they safe?
How successful are the vaccines in protecting people from the virus?

Success of the vaccines is 94 to 95 per cent with a second dose, which means they are highly effective at protecting people from serious illness from COVID-19. 

What is the timing for the two doses of the vaccine?
  • With significant delays in supplies of the vaccine expected until March, BC’s Provincial Health Officer has made the decision to extend the time between doses to 42 days. This timing may change as more supplies become available. 
  • The Provincial Health Officer is using all the data and advice available to her in making her decisions. The World Health Organization and the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) support up to 42 days between doses, and other jurisdictions are waiting up to 12 weeks. 
  • By extending the timing between doses, more vulnerable people (150,000) can be protected with a first dose of vaccine, at a time when COVID-19 transmission is high.
  • As vaccinations take place, it will still be important to wear a mask when you’re out, stay six feet from others, limit contact to those living in your household, and wash your hands frequently.
What side-effects can I expect after the vaccine?
  • Common reactions to the vaccine may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Other reactions include tiredness, headache, fever, chills, muscle or joint soreness, and nausea. These reactions are mild and generally last one to two days.
  • These common reactions are not an allergic reaction, but signs that your body’s immune system is responding – in a good way – to the vaccine.
  • If you have concerns about any symptoms you develop after receiving the vaccine speak with your health care provider or call 8-1-1 for advice.

Related: COVID-19 vaccine FAQs for doctors