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Okotoks area doctors answer COVID-19 vaccine questions

Dr. Adam Vyse receives his COVID-19 vaccination on Dec. 29 in Calgary. Vyse was one of several physicians participating in an online Q&A concerning the vaccine on Dec. 21, which was put on by the Primary Care Network.

A Foothills area doctor is not only rolling up his sleeve to help patients at the High River Hospital emergency room, but also to receive his COVID-19 vaccination.

“My appointment is next week (Dec.29),” said Dr. Adam Vyse during an online Q&A concerning the vaccination on Dec. 21. “It might be because I look after patients in long-term care, but also other emerg docs in Calgary are getting their shots as well.

“I think it is important to know that those of us who are in the thick of it, we are getting it and we believe in it. After reading the science the first few go rounds, I don’t see any real negatives.”

Vaccinations for COVID-19 began rolling out in mid-December in Alberta shortly after the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was approved in Canada on Dec. 9. Since that time the Moderna vaccine was approved on Dec. 23.

Dr. Yunan Liu, a resident physician in High River, said it is key the majority of Canadians get the vaccination.

“It doesn’t really matter if (we have) this magical drug if it isn’t going to get used,” Liu said.

She said at least 70 per cent of the community needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. 

She defined herd immunity as the number of people needed to take the vaccine to protect people who may not be able to be vaccinated, such as pregnant women, individuals taking chemotherapy treatment and others.

She estimates the vaccine will be rolled out to the general public in the fall of 2021.

“It will take time to reach that important 70 per cent herd immunity and the public health restrictions will likely follow us into 2021 until we can get the majority of people vaccinated." she said.

Vyse agreed -- saying COVID numbers are much higher now than the first wave in March.

“The second wave is nothing like the first wave – it is way bigger,” Vyse said. “It is going to take a lot more out of us until we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

A slide shown at the Dec. 21 presentation showed Alberta presently had the highest number of active cases per 100,000 people in Canada, at more than 400 cases. 

Dr. Jia Hu, medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, wrote in a chat during the presentation, approximately 48 per cent of Canadians are willing to get immunized as soon as a vaccine is available, but quite a few people will wait.

“But waiting is akin to prolonging the pandemic which is bad news,” he wrote.

Hu, said he has confidence in the vaccines and their safety, adding there are three phrases of testing. The first phase is testing to see if it safe, the second phase is to see the vaccine generates an immune response – create antibodies.

“The third phase is to see if it actually works in real life,” Hu said. “In no time of human history has one type of vaccine or one medical product been tested in so many people across so many age groups and different conditions.”

He stressed Health Canada, United States and European regulators are obsessed with safety.

Liu said there have been concerns from the public about how quickly the vaccination was developed.

“What has been done is they have taken out all of the bureaucracy that normally goes into vaccine development process,” Liu said. “We have taken out the time it takes to push paper around…

“We have also thrown billions of dollars at the top scientists and told them to focus on making a vaccine for COVID-19.”

She said side-effects such as redness and a possible sore arm are typical after a vaccination.

“It (the body) is mounting a response from it (the vaccine), It is trying to fight it off,” Liu said. “That is what we need to see.”

She stressed that rumours that the vaccine can alter an individual’s DNA are false. Also rumours that the vaccine causes infertility are also incorrect.

As for long-term effects Hu said he could not definitely say what the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine may be on an individual 30 years from now, but he has faith in the vaccine.  

He said concerns of long-term effects should be balanced out with the long-term effects of COVID-19 itself, including the long-hauler syndrome.

“There are people with symptoms many, many months after they have had COVID,” Hu said. “You might not die from it (COVID) but do you want a 10 per cent decrease in lung capacity for the rest of your life?

“That could be possible and a lot more likelier than any kind of vaccine side effect.”

Vyse agreed adding a potential side effect of COVID-19 is symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.

“If you end up with chronic fatigue syndrome, we often don’t know what caused it but it’s debilitating," he said.” This COVID syndrome is a lot like that except we seem to know what caused it – this virus that you can now get a vaccine for.”

Concerns in the Q&A were also raised about the new strain of coronavirus found in England in December.

Hu said he has talked to colleagues connected to those involved with dealing with the new strain in the United Kingdom.

He said while there are some concerns the strain may be more contagious, it will not cause greater sickness. He also said there is no indication that the vaccine would not work for the strain.

(A case of the new strain was reported in Ontario on Dec. 26. As of Dec. 28, three had been reported in Ontario, one in British Columbia and one in Alberta).

He said an example of a virus which mutates regularly is influenza, which is why flu shots are recommended every year.

“Coronavirus mutates far less than influenza – which is a good thing,” Hu said.


(Courtesy of Primary Care Network)

Live Chat Questions

When will the vaccine be available to the average Albertan? (answer: Likely sometime summer 2021, by September at the very latest)

Will vaccination be expected for students before attending school in the 2021-2022 academic year? (It should be available to the general public including school-aged children by Sept. 2021, but will likely not be mandatory for school attendance - decision to be made provincially by the government)

Will people who have been vaccinated be able to ‘roam free’ maskless , etc? (It will take some time for public health restrictions to be lifted, and this will also require a degree of ‘herd immunity’ - meaning the level of restrictions will depend partly on vaccine uptake)

How long does immunity last and will an annual  ‘booster’ vaccine be required? (Not clear yet but an annual vaccine like the flu shot is certainly still much better than ongoing pandemic and its restrictions)

What are the long term side effects of the vaccine?  (Not clear yet but almost certainly less than long term risks of COVID-19 infection, COVID ‘long haulers’)

Should I get the vaccine if I have food allergies? (Not asked, but answer would be yes however if you have severe allergies, ie. anaphylaxis, talk to your health care provider / family doc before getting any vaccine)