Good news is on the horizon as two COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in Canada, and many more are being tested in clinical trials. Although the vaccines are not widely available to all Canadians yet, the Public Health Agency of Canada expects to have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by autumn 2021. It is important to understand what is coming and what this means for you and your loved ones with diabetes.
- What COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in Canada?
At the time of this article’s publication (February 2021), there are two approved COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada (see table below). The situation is rapidly changing, as researchers are currently testing 66 vaccines in clinical trials on humans and 20 of them have reached the final stages of testing. At least 90 preclinical vaccines are under investigation in animals. For the most up-to-date information on approved COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the National Advisory Committee on Immunization website.
|Manufacturer||Platform||Dosing schedule||Protection rate|
|Pfizer-BioNTech||mRNA||2 doses, 3 weeks apart||95%|
|Moderna||mRNA||2 doses, 4 weeks apart||95%|
The vaccines that are currently available require two injections. The first shot starts building protection, while a second shot, three to four weeks later, provides the most protection the vaccines have to offer.
- Is the vaccine safe for people with diabetes?
Yes. Both approved vaccines appear to be safe for adults with diabetes. The clinical trials included adults of all ages, races and ethnicities, as well as multiple health conditions, including diabetes. The Pfizer-BioNTech trial included more than 3,000 people with diabetes, who made up 8.4% of the trial participants. The Moderna trial included close to 3,000 people with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes, who made up 9.4% of the trial participants.
Canada is recognized around the world for its high standards for drug and vaccine reviews, approvals and monitoring systems; these standards were not compromised. The two vaccines were advanced quickly due to the increased funding and support provided for COVID-19 vaccines. All manufacturers were required to follow the proper steps of a clinical trial and do thorough checks to ensure the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. The vaccines were well-tolerated, highly effective and elicited an immune response in people with underlying conditions such as diabetes.
- Why is it important to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine not only protects you and your loved ones, it protects your community as well. It can help your body fight off a COVID-19 infection and can significantly reduce your chances of getting sick or experiencing complications from the virus. The two vaccines are 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 in adults who have been exposed to the virus.
It has become evident that people with diabetes have worse outcomes if they are infected with the COVID-19 virus. A study done in December 2020 found that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to be hospitalized or experience severe COVID-19 illness, compared with people who don’t have diabetes. This makes it even more important for people with diabetes to get vaccinated.
- Do people with diabetes get priority in terms of vaccination timing?
Currently, the government is prioritizing the following populations for early COVID-19 vaccination:
- Residents and staff of shared living settings who provide care for seniors
- Adults 70 years of age and older, with the following order of priority:
- Beginning with adults 80 years of age and older
- Decreasing the age limit by five-year increments to age 70 years as supply becomes available
- Healthcare workers who have direct contact with patients, including:
- Those who work in healthcare settings
- Personal support workers
- Adults in Indigenous communities
In Canada, there are no specific guidelines on prioritization for timing of the vaccine based on chronic diseases such as diabetes. However, plans are continually being updated based on vaccine supply and other logistical factors. It is important to check the federal and provincial websites for the most up-to-date information, as it becomes available.
- Are there any side effects from the vaccine?
When you receive a vaccine, your immune system builds protection against the virus or disease. As your body creates antibodies, it learns how to fight the particular virus and you may experience normal side effects such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain or fever. These side effects usually last only a day or two, similar to the flu shot. People with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels and have a sick day management plan in place, in case they experience any of these symptoms.
Severe allergic reactions are rare. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to any vaccine, ask your healthcare team if you should get the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have concerns about side effects, experience serious side effects or side effects for more than three days, be sure to speak with your healthcare team.
- Is it possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
The mRNA vaccines that are currently available in Canada do not contain the live virus. Therefore, there is no risk that the vaccine will give you the COVID-19 infection.
- If I have had COVID-19, should I still get the vaccine?
After someone is infected with COVID-19 and has recovered, they may have some protection against getting COVID-19 again. However, scientists do not know at this time how long this natural immunity lasts. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more research is needed to better understand this.
Because the health risks associated with COVID-19 infection can be severe, and the fact that re-infection is possible, you may be advised to get the vaccine even if you've had COVID-19. If there is a limited supply of the vaccine, those who have already tested positive may have their COVID-19 vaccination delayed. Talk to your healthcare team if you are not sure whether you need the vaccine.
- Do I still need to wear a mask after I get the vaccine?
Even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, experts recommend that you continue to wear a mask and practice recommended public health measures. The COVID-19 vaccines begin to take effect in preventing COVID-19 after your first dose but don’t reach full protection (95%) until one to two weeks after the second dose, depending on which vaccine you received. This means that until this time, and even afterward, there is still a small chance you can get sick with COVID-19.
While the vaccine may help prevent you from getting sick, it is unknown if you can still carry the virus and transmit it to others. It may take a while until everyone can be vaccinated. Until more data are gathered, it is important that you continue to wear a face mask and follow local public health recommendations in order to protect others in your community.
- Does the vaccine protect against the new COVID variant?
The short answer at this time is yes. To date, studies have shown that the approved vaccines in Canada protect against the COVID-19 variants. However, time will tell if they are less effective or if the new variants indicate that people will need to be re-vaccinated in the future, similar to the flu shot. The important takeaway message is that the data show it is important to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available to you.