Page updated Sept. 13, 2021
Vaccine Facts • How to Get the Vaccine • Vaccine Safety • Should I get one if . . . ? • Children and Youth • Vaccine Variants • Second Dose • Public Health Recommendations • BC Vaccine Card • Public Health Information Sources
The FNHA's medical officers and nurses recommend the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect individuals, their families and their communities.
Here's what you need to know about the vaccine's safety, effectiveness and accessibility.
For information about vaccination clinics, please see How to Get the Vaccine.
1. What is the vaccine?
Vaccines are products that produce immunity to a specific disease, such as COVID-19. When you have immunity to COVID-19, which is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, it means you may be exposed to it without developing severe illness.
Currently, there are four COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in Canada: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are the two vaccines used in the vast majority of clinics across Canada and require two doses to become fully effective.
2. Why is it important to get a COVID-19 vaccination?
The vaccines are the best way to protect you against COVID-19. In clinical trials and after nine months of vaccine distribution throughout the world, evidence overwhelmingly shows that those who received a vaccine are less likely to become sick with COVID-19. Fully vaccinated people are also very highly protected against severe illness (hospitalization and death), which is the main purpose of getting this vaccine.
When you get immunized, you help protect others as well, including those who are unable to get the vaccine. The more people in a community who are vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to spread and mutate (also see FAQ 13). Reduced access to stable housing, income, clean water and/or health and social services place some Indigenous peoples at higher risk of COVID-19. The vaccine is one way that Indigenous (and other) people can protect themselves from this virus.
All people in BC age 12 and older are eligible to receive a vaccine. The FNHA's Medical Officers strongly recommend that you opt to get the vaccine.
3. Which vaccine brand will I get?
All of the vaccines available in Canada are effective, safe, and have passed all of Canada's rigorous standards for testing.
Clinics in First Nations communities, Indigenous-specific vaccine clinics and provincial clinics provide mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna). In most cases, the same brand of vaccine will be offered for your second dose, although, depending on availability, the alternate mRNA vaccine may be offered. These vaccines are interchangeable, so there is no worry with “mixing and matching" doses. An mRNA vaccine is also recommended as a second dose for anyone who received AstraZeneca as a first dose.
Now that the Moderna vaccine has been found to be safe and effective for youth aged 12-17, this vaccine is now available in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine. All youth are encouraged to get the first vaccine available to them, even if your Elders received a different vaccine. You can rest assured that you are receiving the same excellent protection.
4. How can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?
There are two methods by which Indigenous people in BC can get vaccinated:
A First Nations person who received their first dose in community and wishes to receive their second dose through the provincial program may do so. In addition, a First Nations person who received their first dose through the provincial program may receive their second dose through a First Nations community clinic.
All people in BC age 12 or older may register for a COVID-19 vaccination appointment as part of the province's vaccination program. There are also drop-in clinics available.
Families and household units can also be vaccinated together at one appointment, providing additional flexibility and accessibility for vaccinations. This includes parents or guardians bringing more than one child to a new or existing appointment for another member of the family. Youth do not need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to receive the vaccine. (See FAQ #11.)
There are two ways to get vaccinated through provincial clinics:
In order to register online, you must provide your first and last name, date of birth, postal code, your Personal Health Number (PHN isn't mandatory if you don't have one) and an email address or a phone number that can receive text messages.
After registering, confirmation via email or text should come within 15 to 30 minutes, but could take up to 24 hours.
You can also register by phone at 1-833-838-2323 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day, with reduced hours on statutory holidays. Dial 711 if you are hearing-impaired.
5. Will there be more vaccine clinics in my home community?
Community leaders and First Nations health clinics will receive official confirmation from the FNHA when a vaccine clinic is available for their community. FNHA regional teams will then provide wrap-around support to move forward with community vaccination campaigns as needed. Community leaders may refer to the Toolkit for Communities Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Some things individuals can do to be ready for when vaccine is available in their communities:
Like the provincial clinics, the FNHA clinics offer vaccination to everyone age 12 and over. All first and second dose clinics have been held in First Nations communities, however more clinics may be held for people who missed receiving their first or second doses, including for youth between 12 and 17.
6. Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?
After the administration of tens of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Canada alone (nearly 54 million as of Sept. 9), we have strong evidence that they are safe and highly effective. This includes across different ages (including Elders and youth 12 and up), sex, race and ethnicity.
Feeling worried or hesitant is normal when something is new, however it's important to realize that Canada's vaccine approval process (shown in this infographic) is among the most rigorous in the world. Health Canada was able to approve the COVID-19 vaccines quickly by delaying approval of other medicines and vaccines and prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for approval. No safety standards were changed or compromised for reviews and approvals.
Scientists have spent more than 30 years developing mRNA technology (the technology Pfizer and Moderna used to develop their vaccines) for use in medicine. They have been used in clinical trials in people since at least 2010, both for fighting cancer and as vaccines for infectious diseases. If there were long-term effects of the technology, these would have been found. We can feel assured that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada are safe in both the short and long term, effective, and that they will prevent serious illness and death.
To ensure the continued safe delivery of vaccine programs, Health Canada and others around the world continually monitor and investigate potential side effects from vaccines, even long after approval of the vaccine. Public Health officials assess the risks and benefits of a particular vaccine for the population they serve and decide whether to recommend its use.
For additional information on vaccine safety, visit this link at the BC Centre for Disease Control: Monitoring vaccine uptake, safety and effectiveness
The most common kinds of reactions occur because your immune system is responding to the vaccine. These side effects are usually mild to moderate and similar to ones you might get from any shots: pain in the arm at the site of the injection, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and low-grade fever. These reactions may be stronger for some people, particularly after the second dose. Reactions usually don't last more than a few days.
Allergic reactions are fortunately rare, but can occur when receiving any vaccine or medicine. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives (bumps on the skin that are often very itchy), swelling of the face, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing.
Allergic reactions are treatable by the medical staff who administer the vaccine. This is why you are asked to stay at the clinic at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine – and longer if you have a history of allergies. Clinic staff have the training and medications required to respond to an allergic reaction.
An inflammation of the heart called myocarditis or pericarditis can happen rarely in the first week after receiving an mRNA vaccine, mostly in young men and youth, and occurring more frequently following the second dose. Cases are generally mild and resolve on their own. As COVID-19 is far more serious than the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis it is strongly recommended to get the vaccine. As always, if you have a symptom that is unexpected after receiving a vaccine you should seek health care.
Above all, the major health risks associated with getting COVID-19 far outweigh these minor risks or discomfort from possible allergic reactions and side effects.
8. Should I get the vaccine if I've tested positive for COVID-19 in the past?
If you've had COVID-19 you should still get vaccinated once you have recovered. This is because you still may not be immune to the virus that causes COVID-19 and you could get infected again. It is important that you wait for the full isolation period before getting the vaccine so that you do not expose people at your vaccination clinic to the virus.
9. Should I get the vaccine when I am in quarantine?
You should not get vaccinated if you are in quarantine:
If you live in a remote or isolated community scheduled for a vaccine clinic, and have been quarantining, you may be able to receive the vaccine if the vaccine provider is able to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of exposure for others.
Do not go to the clinic, but instead contact your health care provider to discuss arrangements. You must be exhibiting no symptoms and will be asked to have a symptom check immediately prior to vaccination.
10. Should I get the vaccine if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?
Experts strongly agree that pregnant and breastfeeding individuals would benefit from receiving the vaccine as the risk of getting COVID-19 outweighs the potential risk of being vaccinated during pregnancy.
Review this infographic about COVID-19 Vaccines and Your Baby.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have questions about the vaccine, please contact your health care provider, or call HealthLinkBC at 811 or the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day at 1-855-344-3800.
11. Is the COVID-19 vaccine available to youth under the age of 12?
Vaccines for children under age 12 are not yet authorized in Canada, but we expect the mRNA vaccines will be approved and available for children aged 5 to 11 late this year or early next year.
Although children are less likely to get severe COVID-19 infections, they can still get sick from the virus or have long-term consequences, and they may also spread the infection to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the more protected that unvaccinated people – like children in a household or a school – will be. Children above two years of age will also benefit from wearing a mask in all indoor public settings, as is recommended for all residents of BC by the Provincial Health Officer under the current public health orders.
All youth aged 12 to 17 are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are authorized for this age group.
Families and household units can be vaccinated together at one appointment. This includes parents or guardians bringing more than one child to an existing appointment for another child in the family or to their own appointment.
Youth aged 12 to 17 who are able to make medical decisions can receive the vaccine without being accompanied by a parent or guardian. Under the Infants Act, children can consent to receive medical treatment – including vaccinations – as long as the youth understands the details of the treatment, including risks and benefits, and a health care provider has determined that the treatment is in the youth's best interest. We recommend parents and guardians discuss getting the vaccine with their children to help them make their decision.
Regardless of age, it is important to keep your child or youth up to date with routine immunizations for other vaccine-preventable diseases. A strong immune system is important to reduce the impact of COVID-19.
12. What are variants and does the vaccine work on them?
A variant is a strain of the COVID-19 virus that has mutated or changed from the original one. Small mutations are a normal part of the reproduction of all viruses– and indeed all living things–and can give rise to changes in how the virus spreads from person to person, how sick it makes us, and whether or not an older vaccine will still be effective.
The main variant currently of concern in BC is the Delta variant. This variant spreads more easily and causes more severe illness than both the original virus and other variants we have seen to this point
Two doses of COVID-19 vaccine provide very good protection against all current variants, including the Delta variant, especially against severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. It is very important to get the second dose to have strong protection and to reduce the seriousness of any infection that may occur.
Until people around the world have had a chance to get vaccinated, the virus will continue to quickly reproduce, with the chance for new mutations to arise–and for vaccines to become less effective in fighting them. It is important that not only our own communities, but people around the world have the opportunity to get vaccinated.
13. Do I need the second dose?
It is important to get both doses of the vaccine as the two doses make up what's known as one “primary series" that will provide the strongest and longest possible protection, both against the original virus and the variants. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to complete the primary series.
You should not be concerned if you are offered a different brand of vaccine than your first vaccine. It has been determined that this method is safe and effective and all vaccines provide excellent protection against serious disease.
Those who received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine will be offered an mRNA vaccine for their second dose. This has likewise been shown to be safe and effective.
14. When do I need to receive the second dose of the vaccine?
If you were immunized through a provincial clinic, approximately 28 days after your first dose, you will get an invitation by text, email or phone call to book your second dose appointment. You may also attend a drop-in clinic 28 days after your first dose without booking an appointment.
You may find drop-in clinics near you by visiting https://www.gov.bc.ca/VaxForBC.
If you were immunized with your first dose in community, contact your health centre to find out where or when you can access your second dose.
Scientists are still studying how long the primary series (two doses) of COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing COVID-19 and when and for whom booster doses may be necessary to keep this protection high. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is monitoring this situation carefully and will make recommendations if and when necessary.
15. Do I have to wear a mask if I'm vaccinated?
People over the age of 12 must wear mask in all indoor public spaces throughout BC. Read the current public health orders here.
16. Can we stop following the public health guidelines for COVID-19 after we are vaccinated?
We need to continue to adhere to all of the recommended public health measures for COVID-19 even if we've been vaccinated.
To stop the spread of the virus, enough people need to be immune either through natural infection or immunization. The WHO estimates that at least 70 per cent of the entire population, including children, would need to be immune to ensure community immunity.
Starting on Sept. 13, 2021, partially vaccinated people (one dose, plus two weeks) may participate in the province's Proof of Vaccination and BC Vaccine Card program, which will permit visiting non-essential venues and events with proof of vaccination. See FAQ #17 for more details.
17. What is the Proof of Vaccination and BC Vaccine Card?
Proof of Vaccination is being able to show that you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. This proof will be required in BC for people attending certain social and recreational settings and events. As of Sept. 13, one dose of vaccine will be required for entry; by Oct. 24, two doses will be required.
For details, visit the provincial website.
If you don't have a smartphone, computer and printer, you can call 1-833-838-2323 and order a paper copy by phone.
Service BC officers will also print out a record for you (Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey locations don't offer printed copies ).
The FNHA works closely with our regional, provincial and federal health partners and can recommend and support the important information they provide:
If you are a client or health care provider with client-specific questions or concerns about the COVID-19 Vaccine and do not have access to a primary care provider, call First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day at 1-855-344-3800. Medical Office Assistants are available to help you seven days per week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
If you are a COVID-19 vaccine provider and have clinical COVID-19 or other immunization program questions, you can contact the FNHA Immunization team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also call 8-1-1 or check in with your community nurse.
For all current information, articles and resources visit our COVID-19 web portal. You can also check our news section for informative articles written by the FNHA's Medical Officers.
Contact your primary care provider or local public health office
or call 8 - 1 - 1. (Take a self-assessment.)