Moderna vaccine: What you need to know about the new COVID-19 vaccine, who shouldn't take it, and how it will change

Elisabetta Bianchini
·5 min read
COVID-19 in Canada
COVID-19 in Canada

For more on today’s top stories and the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, please refer to our live updates below throughout the day, as well as our COVID-19 news hub.

Health Canada has announced the authorization of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the second vaccine for the virus approved in Canada. A total of 168,000 doses are expected to arrive in Canada next week.

“Today’s authorization is a critical step in ensuring additional COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Canadians in all parts of the country,” a statement from Health Canada reads. “The different storage and handling requirements of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine mean that it can be distributed to isolated and remote communities, including the territories.”

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada and head of vaccine distribution efforts, confirmed that on Dec. 28 initial doses of the Moderna vaccine should arrive in the territories.

How effective is the Moderna vaccine?

Just like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses, one month apart. Based on studies of about 30,000 participants, the vaccine was 94.1 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 two weeks after the second dose. That does mean that people were not “fully protected” from the virus until 14 days after receiving the second shot.

When asked how any delays in getting the second dose would impact efficacy of the vaccine, Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada, said at a press conference on Wednesday that there is “flexibility” on when the the timeline of when the second dose is given.

“We haven’t seen anything in the evidence that would show that there would be a significant decrease in immunity if that is delayed for a few weeks, but again, we really don’t have the data to be able to say confirm that one way or the other,” Dr. Sharma said.

The vaccine has been authorized for use in adults 18 and older, with additional studies being conducted for children age 12 and older.

Information from Health Canada outlines that possible side effects of the Moderna vaccine are “similar to what you might have with other vaccines.” Side effects include pain at the site of injection, body chills, feeling tired and “feverish.”

Who shouldn’t get the vaccine?

Dr. Sharma identified that if anyone has had a serious allergy to a vaccine in the past or has an allergy to any of the components of the Moderna vaccine, then they should not get immunized without consulting a medical professional.

Additionally, if someone has been infected with COVID-19 and received antibodies as part of their treatment, they should wait at least 90 days to get vaccinated.

“There’s some evidence that having those antibodies, that passive immunity as opposed to active immunity, might affect the way that the vaccine works,” Dr. Sharma explained.

Following the announcement Canadians, particularly healthcare professionals, went to social media to express their excitement:

Will the COVID-19 vaccine change over time?

Looking at COVID-19 vaccines with a more long-term view, Dr. Sharma identified that it doesn’t look like Canadians will need to receive a yearly vaccination for the virus, like the influenza vaccine, but she identified that there is a possibility that the vaccine will need to change or a booster will be needed at some point.

She added that if a completely new vaccine is not necessary, then the manufacturers can submit the new information through an abbreviated process, otherwise a new packaged of data will have to be submitted to Health Canada for approval.

It is also believed that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will both provide immunity against the new variant of COVID-19 identified in the U.K, after both manufacturers conducted testing against circulating strains that are very similar.

“We believe that the vaccines will have effectiveness against this variant however, we still are waiting for confirmation of the testing of these vaccines against that specific variant,” Dr. Sharma said.

Two more vaccine candidates, from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are being reviewed by Health Canada. Dr. Sharma said the reviews are “progressing well” as the department waits for additional manufacturing information from AstraZeneca. Health Canada is also waiting on more clinical trial information from Johnson and Johnson, set to be available by the end of January 2021 or beginning of February 2021.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that an additional 250,000 dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be delivered next month, totalling about 751,000 doses that will arrive in Canada from the manufacturer in January.

Check out our COVID-19 in Canada topic page for latest news, tips, health updates, cases and more.