Vaccines save millions of lives each year. The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a huge step forward in our global effort to end the pandemic and to get back to doing more of the things we enjoy with the people we love.

We’ve gathered the latest expert information to answer some of the most common questions about COVID-19 vaccines.

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How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

Vaccines work by mimicking an infectious agent – viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause a disease. This ‘teaches’ our immune system to rapidly and effectively respond against it. 

Traditionally, vaccines have done this by introducing a weakened form of an infectious agent that allows our immune system to build a memory of it. This way, our immune system can quickly recognize and fight it before it makes us ill. That’s how some of the COVID-19 vaccines have been designed.

Other COVID-19 vaccines have been developed using new approaches, which are called messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines. Instead of introducing antigens (a substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies), mRNA vaccines give our body the genetic code it needs to allow our immune system to produce the antigen itself. mRNA vaccine technology has been studied for several decades. They contain no live virus and do not interfere with human DNA.

For more information on how vaccines work, please visit WHO >>

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Yes, COVID-19 vaccines must go through rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed benchmarks for safety and effectiveness. Only if they meet these standards can a vaccine receive validation from WHO and national regulatory agencies.

UNICEF will only procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines that meet WHO’s established safety and efficacy criteria and that have received the required regulatory approval.

Which COVID-19 vaccine is best for me?

Currently there are four different COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution and use  in Canada. You should get the vaccine that’s offered to you; however if you have any additional questions about the vaccines that have been approved, please consult your family doctor or pharmacist.

For more information on how the Government of Canada is reviewing and approving COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the official Government of Canada webpage >>

Will the COVID-19 vaccines work against the new variants?

WHO says that the vaccines approved to date are expected to provide at least some protection against new variants.

Experts around the world are continuously studying how the new variants affect the behaviour of the virus, including any potential impact on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Should any of the vaccines be shown to be less effective against one or more of these variants, it will be possible to change the composition of the vaccines to protect against them. In the future, changes to vaccinations such as the use of booster shots and other updates may be necessary.

But in the meantime, the important thing to do is to get vaccinated and continue measures to reduce the spread of the virus – which helps to reduce the chances for the virus to mutate – including physical distancing, mask wearing, good ventilation, regular handwashing and seeking care early if you have symptoms.

When shouldn’t you get a COVID-19 vaccine?

If you have any questions about whether you should or should not receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please speak to your doctor.

Should I get vaccinated if I’ve already had COVID-19?

Yes, you should get vaccinated even if you’ve previously had COVID-19. While some people who recover from COVID-19 may develop some natural immunity to the virus, we do not yet know how long it lasts or how well you are protected. Vaccines offer more reliable protection.

Should my child get vaccinated?

Children’s immune systems are different from those of adults and can vary significantly depending on their age. At present, WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines are not recommended for anyone under the age of 16-18 years (depending on the individual vaccine), even if they belong to a high-risk group. Children were not included in the initial trials for COVID-19 vaccines, so there is currently limited or no data on the safety or efficacy of vaccines for children below the age of 16. More research is needed and we will update the recommendations as trials are conducted and more information becomes available.

It is important, however, to make sure that your child is continuing to receive routine childhood vaccinations.

When will I be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Each province has their own criteria for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, and we recommend checking your provincial COVID-19 website or contacting your member of Provincial Parliament/member of the National Assembly/member of the House of Assembly/member of the Legislative Assembly for more information.

Can COVID-19 vaccines affect your DNA?

No, none of the COVID-19 vaccines affect or interact with your DNA in any way. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines teach the cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside the body. This response produces antibodies which keep you protected against the virus. mRNA is different from DNA and only stays inside the cell for about 72 hours before degrading. However, it never enters the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is kept.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain any animal products in them?

No, none of the WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines contain animal products or by-products.

How can I protect my family until we all receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Safe and effective vaccines are a game changer but for the time being, even once vaccinated we need to continue taking precautions to protect ourselves and others. This includes wearing masks, physical distancing and regular handwashing.

What is COVAX?

COVAX is part of a global effort aimed at accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access around the world. No country will be safe from COVID-19 until all countries are protected.

There are 190 countries and territories engaged in the COVAX Facility, which account for over 90 per cent of the world’s population. Working with CEPI, GAVI, WHO and other partners, UNICEF is leading efforts to procure and supply COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of COVAX.

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