CPHO Sunday Edition: Canada’s Two New COVID-19 Vaccines: What You Should Know

From: Public Health Agency of Canada
The CPHO Sunday Edition

March 7, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Next Thursday, March 11th marks the one year anniversary of the pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organization. It is hard to believe it’s been a full 12 months, and it is important to acknowledge all the hardships and sacrifices that have been made along the way, including, tragically, all those we have lost. COVID-19 has affected us all deeply, as individuals, as communities, and as a country.

Yet, as the months have gone by, I have also witnessed the remarkable courage, strength, and generosity demonstrated by Canadians. Through it all, it is the incredible support that Canadians have shown for one another that has impressed me the most. This has included, most recently, touching accounts of family and community members, kindly stepping up to help those around them who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, by helping them to schedule their vaccination appointments and getting them to where they need to go to be vaccinated.

And as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out across the country, it is has been extremely encouraging to witness the recent approval of additional COVID-19 vaccines! A little over a week ago, Health Canada authorized the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University, and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, for use in Canada. This past Friday, more good news arrived with the approval of the single dose COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Janssen Inc. These new vaccines provide us with additional options to help get more people vaccinated sooner while also mitigating the risk of supply disruptions and potential vaccine candidate setbacks or failures.

Many Canadians are curious and have questions about these newly available vaccines. This is completely normal and a good thing! We all want to be well-informed when it comes to issues that relate to our health – myself included. And so, to help you better understand what these encouraging developments mean for you and your loved ones, this Sunday Edition will be the first in a two-part series which dives a little deeper into Canada’s approved COVID-19 vaccines. Today, I will focus on the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines, and answer some key questions that have been circulating over the past week or so.

How do these new vaccines work?

You have likely heard that the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines are both referred to as viral vector-based vaccines. But what exactly does this mean?

Simply put, this type of vaccine uses a modified virus – the vector – as a special delivery system to carry the genetic instructions for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (the protein studded on the surface of SARS-CoV-2). For the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines, the vectors used is are modified adenoviruses. The adenovirus is a common virus that can cause cold-like symptoms. It is safe to use as it has been adapted so that it cannot replicate and does not cause an infection.

Once the viral vector-based vaccine is injected into our bodies, the vector enters our cells and instructs them to make copies of the spike protein. The cells then present the spike proteins, or fragments of the protein, on their surface. This enables us to develop a specific immune response against the spike protein, including the priming of immune cells and the production of antibodies, which will help our bodies to recognize the virus and target it for destruction should we be exposed to it at a later time.

In terms of administering these two vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine currently requires two doses, while the Janssen vaccine is currently the only single dose COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved to date.

Are the new vaccines safe?

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