This week, we are moving into Phase 2 of our provincial COVID-19 Immunization Plan.
Starting Monday, seniors born in 1931 or earlier (90+) and Indigenous (aboriginal, Mehti or Inuit) citizens born in 1956 or earlier (65+) were able to book their first shots.
Phase 2 will extend into mid-April and includes all seniors, indigenous people and people who live and work in independent living. Seniors in independent living or supportive housing and those who receive homecare support do not need to call to book their shots. They will be contacted by the health authority or the housing operator.
Seniors born 1936 or earlier (85+), can start calling for their appointments on March 15th. Those born in 1941 or earlier (80+), can call on or after March 22.
The expectation is that any adult who wants to be immunized will have their first shot by June.
I’m hoping that all of you want and will get your COVID-19 vaccine. Between 75 and 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated before we have herd immunity, one of the keys to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and returning to our normal lives.
For details on the province’s vaccination plan and when and how seniors can book their shots, see the official government website: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine?
For those with questions about the vaccines, I’ll explore the most common myths about COVID-19 vaccines. Frequently asked questions and further details are available on the above provincial government website.
MYTH 1: mRNA vaccines can alter human DNA.
This would be impossible.
In our cells, DNA in our chromosomes is converted into messenger RNA in a process called transcription. In the process called translation, messenger RNA is used by the ribosomes in each cell to produce proteins.
In the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the messenger RNA that codes for the spike protein (used by the coronavirus to enter human cells) is packaged in a lipid capsule. This messenger RNA is packaged in a lipid capsule in order to enter the cell. It is rapidly destroyed by enzymes and does not stay in the body.
The messenger RNA in these vaccines survives just long enough to be translated into the spike protein which in itself is harmless. After our cells make the spike protein, our immune systems recognize it as foreign and produce antibodies.
Within two weeks of immunization, our bodies have sufficient antibodies to recognize the spike proteins of the real coronavirus should we be exposed, giving us over 90% protection from the virus.
The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work differently, using a harmless non-COVID-19 virus (that cannot replicate or cause disease) to deliver the instructions for our cells to produce the spike protein. As with the other vaccines, our immune systems will produce antibodies to it.
The Novavax vaccine (not yet approved in Canada) uses a recombinant spike protein with an adjuvant to boost our immune response to produce the same antibodies.
MYTH 2: The mRNA vaccines are not safe.
These vaccines have been sufficiently studied to ensure safety. Health Canada has taken no shortcuts in evaluating and approving them.
Common side effects are temporary and may include a sore arm, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches within two to three days after vaccination. These side effects are more common with younger people and the booster shot (given 21 days to 4 months later).
Severe allergic reactions are rare. With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, the mRNA is packaged in lipid nanoparticles that are PEGylated; PEG (polyethylene glycol) molecules cover the outside of the lipid particles to increase stability.
These rare severe allergic reactions are largely related to allergies to PEG which is a common ingredient of many foods, beverages, toothpaste, shampoos and many medications including laxatives. If you have never had an allergic reaction to these products, it is unlikely that you will have a severe reaction to the mRNA vaccines.
If you have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or drugs, you should consult with your physician before vaccination, and if you do get a shot of an mRNA vaccine, you should wait at least 30 minutes (instead of the usual 15 minutes for everyone else) after vaccination.
MYTH 3: The COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility.
This is also untrue. A COVID-19 infection (but not the vaccines) may cause illness that may have effects on fertility.
MYTH 4: The AstraZeneca vaccine will turn people into monkeys.
This is untrue and ridiculous. None of these viruses has any effect on our DNA.
MYTH 5: The vaccines contain a microchip that will be used for surveillance technology.
This is also untrue and ridiculous. If it was possible, parents would be willing to pay extra to keep track of their kids. In reality, parents and spouses must rely on the Find My iPhone app or traditional surveillance.
MYTH 6: After you get your shot, you don’t have to be so careful to avoid coronavirus infections.
No vaccine provides 100% protection even after your two shots. We must all continue to follow the provincial health orders to protect ourselves and others:
1. Continue to wash and sanitize your hands before you touch your face or eat.
2. Stay home if you are not feeling well or if you are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
3. Wear a mask in public indoor spaces.
4. Keep a safe distance from others outside your household bubble.
Family physicians continue to meet all of your healthcare needs as always. Keep in touch with your doctor’s office. The Burnaby Division of Family Practice continues to work with our community partners throughout the pandemic. For more social, psychological and medical resources, check: https://www.burnabycoronavirus.com
As part of the Division’s Empowering Patients public health education program, I’ll be giving a free online talk on Healthy Eating at 7 p.m. on March 25. I’ll be talking about the essentials of healthy eating, the new Canada Food Guide and practical tips on making positive lifestyle changes.
For more information, please check https://divisionsbc.ca/burnaby/for-patients/empowering-patients or email Leona Cullen at email@example.com
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.