We all want to return to a normal way of life where we can get together with family and friends, travel, attend social events, and put COVID-19 behind us. And we’ve been told by scientific and medical experts that the way to do this is by reaching herd immunity – where 60-70% of the population is vaccinated and becomes immune to Covid-19, reducing the ability of the virus to spread. But to reach herd immunity, we must address the underlying issues of vaccine hesitancy that are evident among our population.
Vaccine safety scientist, Dr Julie Bettinger, says "People who are hesitant to get a vaccine may be concerned about its safety or the long-term effects, but often the underlying reason for this hesitancy is a lack of trust. Building that trust is crucial to ensuring that people who are wary about taking these vaccines know that it is a safe and healthy option for them."
Feelings of worry or hesitancy are normal reactions to something “new” like the COVID-19 vaccines. But the vaccines now available to us, such as the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the viral vector vaccines such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have been thoroughly researched and tested – the safety requirements during clinical trials were as stringent as with any other vaccines. Developing these vaccines has truly been a global effort.
In fact, variations of these types of vaccines have been around for decades and have successfully been used to prevent influenza, Ebola, Zika, rabies, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and HIV, and are used in cancer research and gene therapy.
As well, Health Canada’s scrupulous approval process ensures vaccine safety for all Canadians – it’s a big responsibility. That the approval process happened so quickly is a testament to the urgency of the pandemic and the ability of Health Canada to shorten its administrative and organizational process.
Although we don’t yet have long-term data, the medical and scientific communities are confident in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines. As is done for all our vaccination programs, federal and provincial public health agencies watch for safety signals – associations between a vaccine and an adverse event that warrants further investigation. The COVID-19 vaccination program is no different. Nearly one year ago, tens of thousands of volunteers world wide stepped up to participate in clinical trials to test the COVID-19 vaccines, and they will be monitored still for several years to come. So, while we don’t yet have any long-term safety data for the COVID-19 vaccines, we do know that in the short term, the vaccines are safe.
The bottom line, for a vaccine to be approved in Canada, the benefits must significantly outweigh any risk. And we know that the risks of a severe reaction if someone were to get COVID-19 are far greater than any potential side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine. Dedicated doctors and scientists around the world have been diligently working to develop COVID vaccines, studying adverse effects, and researching vaccine protection – all so that our lives can one day return to normal.