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Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 Vaccine

Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an evolving situation and we'll continue to update information as it becomes available.

Updated June 16

Second dose appointments

  • Why do I need a second dose?

    It's great that you got your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. You need to get a second dose to ensure you have long-lasting protection.

    The first dose of a two-dose vaccine lets your body's immune system know what it needs to do to fight COVID-19. The second dose is the one that really gives your immune system the boost that's critical for long-term protection.

  • Who is eligible to book their second dose at a shorter interval?

    See if you're eligible for a second dose at a shorter interval.

    See the provincial timeline for when you may be eligible to book your second dose at a shorter interval. This is subject to changed based on vaccine supply.

  • How do I book my second dose at a shorter interval?

    When you're eligible, you can book a second dose at a shorter interval. You can book:

    You don't have to book your earlier second dose at the same place you had your first dose (even if you already have a previous second appointment booked).

    If you already had a second dose booked through the Provincial booking system, and choose to re-book your second dose for an earlier date, the booking system will automatically cancel the appointment on the later date.

  • I already have my second dose appointment booked. Do I have to re-book my second dose at a shorter interval?

    No. If you already have your second dose appointment booked, you may choose to keep it as is.

  • My first dose was AstraZeneca. What will happen with my second dose?

    If you received your first dose of AstraZeneca, you did the right thing to prevent the risk of infection and death from COVID-19 as early as possible. AstraZeneca is safe and effective to prevent COVID-19 and it reduces the risk of infection and death from COVID-19.

    For your second dose, the province says that you may choose to:

    • Get a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, OR
    • Get an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) as your second dose

    Both of these options align with the recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. They reviewed the most up-to-date real world evidence to make this recommendation.

    Both of these options are safe and effective. Choosing either of these options will count as a completed COVID-19 vaccination series. With informed consent, you're eligible for either of these options at least eight weeks after your first dose of AstraZeneca.

    On June 14, 2021, the province updated the second dose interval to as early as eight weeks for those who got a first dose of AstraZeneca. This is based on studies that show dosing intervals between eight and 12 weeks is safe and gives a beneficial immune response.

    There is evidence that a longer interval between two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (such as a 12-week interval) gives higher protection. However, some may choose to get their second dose sooner to have the increased protection that the second dose gives earlier.

    We encourage you to speak with a health care professional for help understanding the options available so you can make an informed decision on your vaccination.

    Choosing a second dose of AstraZeneca:

    • The unusual clotting syndrome that seems to occur after this vaccination is very rare. There are very good treatments for it if it does occur. Ontario paused using AstraZeneca for first doses out of an abundance of caution and because of increased supply and availability of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer).
    • The rate of this clotting syndrome after second dose appears to be lower than after the first dose

    Completing your vaccination series with an mRNA vaccine:

    • The concept of using different vaccine products to complete a vaccine a series is not new
    • Studies show that a first dose of AstraZeneca followed by a second dose of mRNA vaccine is safe and will boost your immune response against COVID-19 for that long-term protection. These studies used Pfizer as the second dose.
    • Countries in Europe including Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain and Sweden have already been offering either Moderna or Pfizer to those who had a first dose of AstraZeneca
    • With an mRNA as your second dose, there is evidence of increased short-term, mild side effects such as headache, fatigue and feeling generally ill. These symptoms don’t last long and resolve without complications.

    If your first dose was the AstraZeneca, and you’d like to receive AstraZeneca as your second dose:

    • You will be eligible to receive your second dose at an interval of eight weeks or more
    • Contact the pharmacy or primary care provider where you had your first dose to book an appointment. They may also call you to let you know that you can book an appointment.

    If your first dose was the AstraZeneca vaccine, and you’d like to receive an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) as your second dose:

  • My first dose was Moderna or Pfizer. Will my second dose be the same vaccine?

    Public Health plans to have both mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) based on vaccine availability. When possible, you will be offered the same vaccine that you got at your first dose appointment. If that mRNA vaccine is not readily available, another mRNA vaccine will be offered to complete the vaccine series.

    This is based on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that says the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines can be safely interchanged. This means you can switch between Moderna and Pfizer safely if the original vaccine you got is not readily available.

  • I had one vaccination, but I don't have an appointment for my second dose. How do I get my second dose?

    You will be able to book a second dose through the provincial booking system once you're eligible for a second dose at a shorter interval.

    See if you're eligible for a second dose at a shorter interval.

    See the provincial timeline for when you may be eligible to book your second dose at a shorter interval. This is subject to changed based on vaccine supply.

  • What are side effects like after a second dose?

    Side effects after your second dose can be similar to the ones you may have had after your first dose but they only last about one to three days. These symptoms typically mean that your body is building protection. If you don't get the second dose, you won't be fully protected from COVID-19.

  • What do I need to know about reports of heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccination?

    Heart inflammation after receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is rare. When it does happen, it seems to be young adults over 16 years and after the second dose. These reports are being investigated to determine if they're directly related to mRNA vaccination. Based on reports received, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada aren't seeing higher rates than would normally be expected in the general population.

    It's important to know that this condition is rare, usually mild, and easily treated.

    If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or palpitations, seek immediate medical attention.

    Speak to your health care provider if you have questions about getting an mRNA vaccine or if you did experience side effects after receiving your first dose.

General information

  • Is there a difference between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines?

    Moderna and Pfizer are basically the same vaccine, made with the same technology. They are just made by different companies. You can be confident that you're getting protection from COVID-19 with both vaccines. Both vaccines will help you protect everybody around you as well.

    Learn more from Dr. Hirji's video about Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

  • Can I book my vaccine if I don't have a health card?

    If you don't have an Ontario health card you can still get your vaccine at participating pharmacies. Your pharmacist will likely ask you for some type of identification and your birth date. Call your pharmacy if you're uncertain about what you need to bring to your appointment.

    Public Health can help you book at our clinic if you don't have any identification:

  • Are there side effects from COVID-19 vaccines?

    Similar to other vaccines, some people may develop mild side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, such as pain where the needle was given, tiredness, chills, headache, and muscle pain. These symptoms typically mean the vaccine is working to produce protection. These side effects usually go away in one to three days. Serious side effects are extremely rare.

    We have sacrificed so much this year to keep our loved ones and community safe. You can play a big role to fight COVID-19 by getting the vaccine when you can.

  • If I had COVID-19, should I still get the vaccine?

    Yes, you should still get your vaccine when you're eligible and when you're out of self-isolation. If you had COVID-19, you may have some immunity but we don't know how much or how long it may last.

  • If I had COVID-19, how long do I have to wait to get the vaccine?

    As long as you're eligible and out of self-isolation, you can get your vaccine right away. If you had COVID-19, you may have some immunity but we don't know how much or how long it may last.

  • Will I need a third shot to keep me immunized from COVID-19?

    The need for a third booster dose is under review. As soon as we have direction about future COVID-19 vaccination plans in Canada, we'll update this answer.

  • Can my employer force me to get vaccinated?

    In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccines are voluntary. You're strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as we have all sacrificed so much this year to keep our loved ones and community safe. You can play a big role to fight COVID-19 by getting the vaccine when you can.

    If you choose not to get vaccinated, your employer may require you to follow additional restrictions, such as wearing a mask or working from home.

    By July 1, 2021, all staff working at long-term care homes in Ontario must do one of the following:

    • Provide proof of vaccination of each dose
    • Provide a documented medical reason for not being vaccinated
    • Participate in an education program about the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not being vaccinated

    For more information, read Ontario Mandates Immunization Policies for Long-term Care Homes or speak with your employer.

  • How can I get my vaccine if I'm housebound?

    In Niagara, we haven't started vaccinating people who are housebound. Home and Community Care Support Services (formerly the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network) has a list of people who receive chronic or complex home care and who are housebound. If you're on this list, they will contact you when they have details about a vaccine for you.

    If you leave your home to access medical appointments in your community, you must get your vaccine at a clinic, pharmacy or through your family doctor. Clinics in Niagara are accessible and have wheelchairs on-site, if you need one.

    The best vaccine for you is the first one you can get. Delaying your vaccine leaves you vulnerable to hospitalization or death.

  • Why should I get vaccinated if the COVID-19 infection has a high survival rate?

    COVID-19 can be a serious illness for anyone and for some people symptoms can last for months. The vaccine is safe and virtually eliminates the risk of serious illness and death. The benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential drawbacks.

  • Will the vaccine protect me from variants?

    All viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, mutate over time. A virus with one or more mutations is a variant. Some mutations can change the characteristics of a virus, such as how it spreads, making it a variant of concern. COVID-19 variants of concern include:

    • B.1.1.7 - first identified in the United Kingdom
    • B.1.351 - first identified in South Africa
    • P.1 - first identified in Brazil
    • B.1.617 - first identified in India

    You can see Niagara's daily case count for these variants.

    We're concerned about these variants because they:

    • Appear to spread more easily and quickly than other variants
    • Increase risk of severe illness and death

    All variants may increase the risk of re-infection for people who already had COVID-19.

    We're learning more about the effectiveness of vaccines against the variants. Studies are showing that our vaccines:

    • Are effective against B.1.1.7
    • May be less effective against B.1.351, P.1 and B.1.617

    Actions you take to prevent COVID-19 will protect you against variants. Get vaccinated and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • How do I report an adverse event following immunization?

    Vaccine reactions are rare. Risks of a serious reaction from a vaccine are minor compared to getting the actual disease. If you're concerned about an adverse event after your vaccine, learn how to report adverse events.

    For more details, visit reported side effects following COVID-19 vaccination in Canada.

  • Where can I find a list of ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines?

Vaccine safety

  • How safe are COVID-19 vaccines?

    We know you want to be sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe. To help you decide if the vaccine is right for you, watch Dr Hirji's video where he answers questions about safety of the vaccines.

    We've sacrificed so much this year to keep our loved ones and community safe. You can play a big role to fight COVID-19 by getting the vaccine when you can.

  • How do I know that I won't get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

    There is no COVID-19 virus in the vaccine. The vaccines teach your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Some people may develop mild side symptom such as fever. These symptoms typically mean the vaccine is working to produce protection. It usually takes the body a few weeks to build immunity after receiving a vaccine.

    You can become infected with the virus before or right after getting the vaccine. This happens because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection in your body.

  • How do I know that the vaccine won't change my DNA?

    The vaccine doesn't change your DNA in any way.

    The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept. This means the mRNA doesn't affect or interact with our DNA in any way. Instead, COVID-19 vaccines that use mRNA work with the body's natural defenses to safely develop protection (immunity) to disease.

  • Can I get the vaccine if I have a health condition?

    People with stable health conditions can get vaccinated. Conditions include: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory diseases, including asthma or COPD, hepatitis B, C and HIV.

    People with a weak immune system because of illness, treatment or an autoimmune condition:

    • Can get the vaccine safely
    • Should speak to their health care provider before getting vaccinated
    • May have lower protection from the vaccine

    People taking medication that make their immune system weak may be able to schedule their vaccine and treatment to get the best protection.

    Watch family physician, Dr. Dec, talk about the importance of people who have a health condition getting vaccinated.

  • How were the COVID-19 vaccines developed so fast?

    The rapid development was made possible by decades of advances in vaccine technology. Specific research into coronaviruses gave a head start to developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Watch COVID-19: How vaccines are developed.

  • Can I get the vaccine if I'm pregnant?

    Yes. You can get any of Canada's COVID-19 vaccines at any time during your pregnancy. Watch a short video from Niagara Health's Chief of Staff, Dr. Johan Viljoe, about getting the vaccine while you're pregnant.

    The risk of infection and death from COVID-19 outweighs any risk of being vaccinated during pregnancy. In wave three, doctors are reporting that younger pregnant individuals who get COVID-19 are developing moderate to severe illness.

    Adding to this concern:

    • Ventilator support in pregnancy is challenging, with greater risks to the mother and child
    • Pregnant individuals with COVID-19 have an increased risk of premature delivery, caesarean delivery and admissions of their babies to a neonatal unit

    While not required, it's best to speak with your health care provider to help you decide if the vaccine is right for you. This is particularly important because early clinical trials did not include participants who were pregnant. However, small numbers of individuals in the trials were found to be pregnant after vaccination. These pregnant individuals have not reported adverse events to date and continue to be followed. Clinical trials are ongoing and some manufacturers have started new trials that include pregnant individuals. As more evidence becomes available, vaccine recommendations will be reviewed and updated.

    For more details, visit COVID-19 vaccination recommendations for special populations.

  • Can I get the vaccine if I'm breastfeeding / chestfeeding?

    Yes. You can get any of Canada's approved COVID-19 vaccines when you're breastfeeding / chestfeeding.

    Experts believe that because the vaccines do not contain live virus, it's likely safe to breastfeed / chestfeed babies after getting the vaccine. Experts are investigating if getting the vaccine will mean passing protective immunity (antibodies) to your baby through breastfeeding / chestfeeding.

    While not required, it's best to speak with your health care provider to help you decide if the vaccine is right for you. This is particularly important because clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccines did not include individuals who were breastfeeding / chestfeeding. For more details, visit COVID-19 vaccination recommendations for special populations.

  • Can the vaccine impact my ability to get pregnant?

    No. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, there is no evidence or reason to suspect that the COVID-19 vaccine could impair male or female fertility.

    While the proteins syncytin-1 (used for placental implantation) and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein have several similar amino acids, they remain vastly different. The antibodies produced against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein will not block syncitin-1.

    For accurate and evidence-based advice, visit the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. Check the reliability of any online news before sharing.

  • If I had a reaction to a different vaccine in the past, can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Most people who had a reaction to a prior vaccine can safely receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past. They will look at your medical records and advise you accordingly.

  • Is it acceptable for someone with food or seasonal allergies to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Yes. If you have allergies that are not related to any components of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can still be vaccinated.

  • Who should not get the vaccine?

    People who have had a serious allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine cannot receive the vaccine. For the current COVID-19 vaccine, if you have an allergy to polyethylene glycol, you should not get vaccinated if your past reaction was severe. Others who have had a less serious, but immediate allergic reaction, should see their health care provider for guidance.

Prioritization

Getting ready for your vaccine appointment

After being vaccinated

  • Am I immune after my first dose?

    It takes two to four weeks to start getting immunity from your vaccine. After that time, your risk of getting COVID-19 is much lower. If you do get COVID-19, the vaccine can prevent severe illness and death.

    Since the risk of getting COVID-19 is not zero, you can still pass the infection to others. We must all continue to practice public health measures, including:

    • Physical distancing
    • Wearing a mask
    • Hand washing
    • Isolating when sick

    Experts may be able to recommend lifting some restrictions as more information becomes available and more people get their vaccine.

    Learn more from Dr. Hirji about what to expect after your first dose.

  • How do I know that I won't spread COVID-19 when I get the vaccine?

    There is no COVID-19 virus in the vaccine, so there is no way for you to spread COVID-19 as a result of getting vaccinated. The vaccines teach your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

    It takes two to four weeks to start getting immunity from your vaccine. You can become infected with the virus before or right after getting the vaccine. This happens because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection in your body.

  • Can I visit someone after I get the vaccine?

    No. Any time you have close contact with people from outside of your household, you put yourself and others at risk. We must all continue to practice public health measures, including:

    • Physical distancing
    • Wearing a mask
    • Hand washing
    • Isolating when sick

    While the vaccines can prevent severe illness and death, experts are still learning more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines offer. Experts may be able to recommend lifting some restrictions as more information becomes available, and more people get their vaccine.

  • How do I register my vaccination in Niagara if I received it outside of Ontario or Canada?

    If you have a second dose appointment at one of our vaccination clinics, bring proof of vaccination from your first dose with you. Our clinic staff will enter out of province vaccine records into the system.

    If you have already completed your COVID-19 vaccine series and need to register your vaccination in Niagara, we're working on an online portal. We'll add the link to our website and communicate to the public once it's ready.

    Make sure to keep proof of vaccination in a safe place.

  • How will I receive proof of vaccination for COVID-19?

    The health care professional performing your COVID-19 vaccination will provide you with a client record. Keep this important handout with your own immunization records and let your health care provider know you were immunized.

  • I lost my vaccination record, can I get a copy?

    If you received your vaccine in Ontario, you can get a copy of your vaccination record using the online Provincial booking system. After you log in with your health card number, you will receive an option to book an appointment or get a copy of your vaccination receipt.

  • Do I still need to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from a trip if I travel after receiving the vaccine?

    Yes. Self-isolation for two weeks following travel is a requirement under federal law, and will continue to remain in effect for those who have received the vaccine. At this time, non-essential travel is not recommended.

  • After I get the vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask and follow other public health measures?

    Yes. Until more people get vaccinated and it's safe, please continue to practise public health measures. Continue to wear your mask, keep your distance, wash your hands and self-isolate if you're sick.

    If you have close contact with people from outside of your household, you put yourself and others at risk.

  • Can I get any other vaccine if I recently had my COVID-19 vaccine?

    No. After receiving any COVID-19 vaccine (dose one or dose two), you need to wait 28 days before you get any other vaccine, unless directed by your health care provider.

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