Previous efforts, particularly during the SARS epidemic in 2003, have advanced research on coronavirus vaccines and accelerated the development of COVID‑19 vaccines.
Clinical trials of some fifty COVID‑19 vaccines are currently underway around the world. It is an unprecedented scientific effort. To promote rapid vaccine development and meet all the regulatory requirements, considerable human and financial resources have been invested.
Public health and regulatory authorities in several countries, including Canada, are actively working to ensure that safe and effective COVID‑19 vaccines become available as quickly as possible.
Go to Vaccine development process page to learn more about the steps required to make a vaccine.
Vaccine ingredients and how the vaccine works
The virus that causes COVID‑19 is composed of a strand of genetic material, RNA (ribonucleic acid) surrounded by an envelope. On the surface of the virus, there are proteins, including the S protein (spike protein) which gives it its crown shape, hence the name coronavirus. The S protein allows the virus to infect cells in the human body.
When a person is given the COVID‑19 vaccine, the body prepares its defence against the virus. A natural immune response is triggered that neutralizes the virus by producing antibodies and other defence cells. Most COVID‑19 vaccines under development block the S protein, preventing the virus from entering and infecting human cells. Vaccination is a natural way to prepare our body to defend itself against any microbes it may encounter.
Various types of COVID‑19 vaccines are being studied:
These vaccines use part of the RNA of the virus that instructs cells to build only the S protein. These vaccines are very pure and do not contain any antibiotics or preservatives. The RNA fragment degrades rapidly after injection of the vaccine. There is no risk that this RNA will alter our genes.
Viral vector–based vaccines
These vaccines use genetically modified viruses that are harmless to humans to produce the S protein.
These vaccines contain non-infectious fragments of proteins or protein envelopes that mimic the envelope of the virus. Some contain an additional substance, called an adjuvant, that creates a more robust and longer-lasting immune response.
Canada attaches great importance to vaccine safety, both before and after approval. For example, COVID‑19 vaccines must meet the same quality and safety standards as any other vaccine used in Canada.
Before it is approved by Health Canada, a vaccine must first be tested on tens of thousands of people. When a serious reaction occurs during a study, the study is interrupted until it is determined whether the reaction is caused by the vaccine or not.
Once a vaccine has been approved, its safety is continuously monitored in order to detect very rare adverse reactions, if any. Canada and Québec have a very comprehensive system to ensure the safety of vaccines after they have been brought to market. Any unusual adverse effects reported are examined by experts to quickly identify any safety problems.
For more information on the steps taken by Health Canada to evaluate vaccines, visit the page Regulating vaccines for human use in Canada on the Government of Canada website.
Vaccine supply for Canada and Québec
The Government of Canada has signed advance purchase agreements for seven promising COVID‑19 vaccines with the following companies:
- Johnson & Johnson;
These purchases are conditional on approval of the vaccines by Health Canada. To date, Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines have been approved for distribution in Canada.
Vaccines from more than one company will be used for COVID‑19 vaccination to vaccinate the population as soon as products become available.
Vaccination in Québec
In Québec, the COVID‑19 vaccine will be free for anyone who wants it. The vaccines will be distributed by the Québec Immunization Program. Doses will not be available on the private market.
Any electronic communication or call offering to get vaccinated for a fee is fraudulent. If you believe you have been the victim of a fraudulent communication, please notify the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre .
Vaccination against COVID‑19 begins upon receipt of the first doses. However, vaccination is only reserved for people in priority groups. Don’t call or go to the location to get the vaccine. The people concerned will be contacted by the institutions of the health and social services network at the appropriate time.
To learn more about the vaccination sequence of priority groups 1 to 6, go to COVID-19 Vaccination Operation.
Priority groups for vaccination
Vaccines will become available gradually. Some people will be vaccinated before others.
Older people and people with certain chronic diseases are at increased risk of developing complications and dying from COVID‑19. Most deaths have occurred in residential facilities for older adults. Outbreaks have been reported in these facilities, affecting both residents and health care workers. The vaccine will be given to these people as a priority.
As more vaccines become available in Canada, vaccination will be expanded to include more people.
The proposed order of priority of groups for vaccination is preliminary. The order of priority is as follows:
- Vulnerable people and people with a significant loss of autonomy who live in residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) or in intermediate and family-type resources (RI‑RTFs).
- Workers in the health and social services network who have contact with users.
- Autonomous or semi-autonomous people who live in private seniors' homes (RPAs) or in certain closed residential facilities for older adults.
- Isolated and remote communities.
- People 80 years of age or older.
- People 70 to 79 years of age.
- People 60 to 69 years of age.
- Adults under 60 years of age who have a chronic disease or health problem that increases the risk of complications of COVID‑19.
- Adults under 60 years of age who do not have a chronic disease or health problem that increases the risk of complications, but who provide essential services and have contact with users.
- The rest of the adult population.
Vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies on vaccine safety and efficacy in these people.
For more details on the criteria used to prioritize people to be vaccinated, consult the document Avis préliminaire sur les groupes prioritaires pour la vaccination contre la COVID‑19 au Québec [Preliminary guidance on priority groups for COVID‑19 vaccination in Québec; French only] on the website of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. The order of priority may be revised based on various considerations, such as the number of vaccines available.
In studies, RNA-based vaccines triggered a good immune response against COVID‑19, even in older adults.
Symptoms after vaccination
Adverse reactions are not uncommon after vaccination. These reactions are usually mild or moderate and can last a few days. Symptoms may include pain at the injection site, fatigue, fever and chills.
To date, no serious adverse effects have been identified with RNA-based vaccines.
Other safety measures
The start of vaccination will not mean the end of health measures. It will take several months to protect a sufficiently large proportion of the population with the vaccine. Physical distancing of two metres, wearing a mask or face covering and handwashing must be maintained until further notice.
Last update: January 14, 2021