COVID-19 VACCINE Q&A

General information

  1. What vaccines are available and how do they work?
  • Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are both mRNA type vaccines. The mRNA is a message that encodes a recipe for your body’s cells to make a harmless viral protein that is normally found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. The person’s immune system will then treat this spike protein as foreign and produce defenses to fight against it. These defenses are then ready to protect the person against the real COVID-19 virus. mRNA vaccines cannot change a person’s DNA. A booster dose is required to increase effectiveness.
  • The vaccine by AstraZeneca-Oxford is a viral vector-based vaccine that uses a harmless adenovirus as a delivery system to instruct your cells to similarly make a spike protein of the COVID-19 virus. This vaccine also requires a second dose.
  • The latest vaccine approved by Health Canada is the one-dose vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, which also uses a harmless adenovirus as a vector to deliver a double-stranded DNA to provide instructions to COVID-19 spike proteins.
  • A fifth vaccine, by Novavax, is still under review by Health Canada. It is a protein subunit vaccine containing an adjuvant that boosts the immunity generated by the vaccine.
  • In general, vaccines train your immune system to make it stronger. They build antibodies against the COVID-19 virus to help prevent diseases.  Immunization is the single most effective means of protection against COVID-19.

Vaccine Effectiveness

  1. How effective is the vaccine?
  • All Health Canada approved vaccines are effective against COVID-19.
  • Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been demonstrated to be over 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease.
  • AstraZeneca vaccine showed a vaccine efficacy rate of 66.7% against COVID symptoms.
  • Johnson & Johnson was 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and 100% effective in preventing COVID-related hospitalization and death.
  • Data from Calgary showed that after nursing home residents and staff were vaccinated, cases of COVID-19 in those facilities have plummeted, with a 90% drop in cases.
  1. The vaccines are reported to have different efficacy rates against COVID-19. Is a vaccine with a higher reported vaccine efficacy better than a vaccine with a lower efficacy?
  • The reported efficacy rates will vary as the different vaccines were studied using different methodology, vaccination schedules, testing locations, at different phases of the pandemic. 
  • What is important to note, is that all COVID-19 vaccines offered to Canadians demonstrate a reduction in hospitalizations, deaths and severe disease.  Health Canada would not approve a vaccine if they determined it to be insufficient to protect against COVID-19.
  1. Will the vaccine work against the COVID-19 Variants of Concern?
  • Several new “variant” strains of the COVID-19 virus have been identified in Alberta and around the world.  These variants are similar to, but more infectious than the strain we have experienced so far.
  • Early data suggests that even against the variant strains of COVID-19, the current vaccines remain very effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. More research is emerging.
  • The best protection against COVID variants is VACCINATION!
  1. I have recovered from COVID-19, should I still be immunized?
  • Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for those who have had and recovered from COVID-19 infection.  It is unknown how long natural immunity may last after recovering from COVID-19.
  1. With everything we do not know about the COVID-19 vaccines, why should I be immunized?
    • To stop the spread of COVID-19, we all need to be immunized as soon as we are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine.
    • Delaying immunization carries serious risks for many individuals, including hospitalization, ICU admission, death, and may extend the need for public health measures to continue.
    • Health Canada has completed thorough reviews of the data from the clinical trials and of the manufacturing processes. This review process allowed Health Canada to confirm that there are no significant safety concerns and that the vaccines protect against disease.  The vaccines are manufactured to high quality standards.

Vaccine Safety

  1. Are COVID vaccines safe?
  • Health Canada has high standards for vaccine review, approvals and monitoring systems.  Only vaccines that are safe and effective will be approved for use in Canada.  
  • After a vaccine is approved for use, evidence on safety and effectiveness is reviewed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization who provide recommendations on immunizations for individuals and for public health programs.
  • The rate of anaphylaxis from COVID-vaccination is low. Between December 2020 to January 2021, there were only 4.5 cases per million doses (or 0.00045%).
  • Medicine is available to treat an allergic reaction to COVID and this is the reason for waiting 20 minutes after the vaccine is given so you can be treated immediately if you have a reaction.
  • It is much safer to get immunized than to get COVID-19 disease.
  1. Who should NOT receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
  • People with known severe hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine, such as PEG (commonly used in colonoscopy, laxatives, cough syrup, cosmetics & skin products).
  • Anaphylaxis to a previous dose of COVID vaccine.
  • The following individuals should talk to their healthcare provider: those receiving anticoagulant therapy, has a bleeding disorder, acute febrile illness, pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised, as there is less data regarding effectiveness and safety in these groups.
  1. What are the expected side effects from the vaccine?
    • Common short-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include:
      • Pain at the injection site lasting one to two days
      • Fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and joint pain lasting approximately one day
    • These short-term mild or moderate side effects are very common to many vaccines and may affect more than 10% of people.  Some side effects, including fever, are more frequent after the second dose.
    • It is important to note that the common short-term side effects are not necessarily bad. It shows that your immune system is working and building the necessary protections against this virus.
    • Over-the-counter pain or fever medication may be considered for the management of short-term side effects if they occur after immunization.
    • No serious safety concerns have been identified in clinical trials.

Ethical Considerations

  1. Do COVID-19 vaccines contain fetal cells from a past abortion?
    • No, none of the vaccines contain fetal / human cells.
  1. What is a fetal cell line, and how are they used in vaccines?
  • Fetal cells lines are immortalized human cells derived from tissue cultures. Two particular cell lines (HEK23 & PER.C6) were derived from tissues from two fetuses that were aborted in 1973 & 1985 respectively.
  • These cells can grow indefinitely in the laboratory setting, creating lines of cells that are sometimes used in research. No new abortions are being carried out to produce these cell lines.
  • Some vaccine manufacturers use these cell lines in the production and / or testing of their vaccines. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson both use fetal cell lines to produce the adenovirus carrier within their COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Other COVID-19 vaccines have utilized fetal cell lines in confirmatory lab testing only, but not in their vaccine production.
CompanyDevelopment / Production Confirmatory Lab Testing
Pfizer-BioNTechSome tests involving abortion-derived cells
ModernaSome tests involving abortion-derived cells
AstraZenecaUses abortion-derived cell lineUsed abortion-derived cell line
Johnson & JohnsonUses abortion-derived cell lineUsed abortion-derived cell line
NovavaxSome tests involving abortion-derived cells
  1. Is it moral to receive COVID-19 vaccines when manufacturers have utilized aborted fetal cells during research & development?
    • The best ethical choice is to utilize vaccines that do not use fetal cell lines in any phase of design, manufacturing or testing. However, none have been approved in Canada. 
    • Next, vaccines that do not use fetal cells in the manufacturing process but did use them for testing during development (e.g. Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax), are preferable to vaccines that utilize fetal cell lines in more than one phase of development, and in particular, in the manufacturing process (e.g. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson).
    • Nonetheless, in the midst of a pandemic that poses a serious threat to public health, in the absence of any satisfactory alternative, it is morally acceptable to decide in good conscience, to receive vaccines that have utilised fetal cell lines, in order to protect one’s own health and that of others. (The Catholic Bishops of Alberta and NWT; National Catholic Bioethics Centre, USA)
    • Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF):
      • “In such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”
      • The Instruction Dignitas Personae, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out that “there exist differing degrees of responsibility” of those organizations who make the decision to use cell lines of illicit origin and “those who have no voice in such a decision”. 
      • Therefore, “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available”, it is “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process”.
  1. By receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that have links to fetal cell lines, does it mean I indirectly approve the use of these cell lines in science?
    • The CDF Congregation clarifies that the morally licit use of these types of vaccine “does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines”.
    • To receive the vaccine, “the degree of connection with the original evil act is so remote that, when there also exists a proportionately grave reason for vaccination, such as the current, urgent need to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, then the Church assures us that it is morally permissible for Catholics to receive it for the good of personal and public health”. (The Catholic Bishops of Alberta and NWT)
  1. Can one in good conscience, also opt out of such a vaccine?
    • The CDF advises that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
    • Those who for reasons of conscience reject vaccines produced with fetal cell lines, however, must “do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”

COVID-19 Detailed Information

with References

General information

  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) has an Immunization booking and resource page that explains the phases of the vaccine roll-out in Alberta.
  • Vaccine hesitancy resource from the CDC, with highlights from the studies indicating:
    • No severe adverse events for Pfizer or Moderna in their trials (41,000 in Pfizer trial, 25,000 in Moderna trial).  Minor side-effects included fatigue, headache, muscle aches in <10% of people.
    • FDA approval used same standards as usual, no steps were “skipped”.  The FDA advises a minimum of 3,000 participants to assess safety.  These trials had many more participants, demonstrating heightened safety requirements for these trials.
  • mRNA vaccines cannot cause Covid-19 and cannot change DNA

Guidance for Catholics

Ethical considerations

Delaying vaccination vs getting vaccination when eligible

  • The effects of influenza vaccination are better on a population scale with large scale vaccination vs simply vaccinating the vulnerable.
  • Some common myths about Covid vaccination.  Highlights include:
    • Initial preclinical testing in macaque monkeys showed little or no virus when their noses were swabbed after vaccination.
    • The most convincing evidence is that since vaccinations in the Calgary health region, cases of Covid in nursing homes have plummeted dramatically (only 1 nursing home case in Calgary on Feb 26, 2021, close to 90% drop in nursing home cases)
  • Questioning the seriousness of Covid-19, it needs to be pointed out that:
  • So far, In Ontario, there are a total of 83 Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFIs) reports received following 280,573 doses of COVID-19 vaccines (December 13, 2020 to January 23, 2021) with a reporting rate of 29.6 per 100,000 doses administered- 82 AEFI reports are non-serious (98.8% of total AEFI reports) and  One AEFI report meet the serious definition (1.2% of total AEFI reports)  https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/ncov/epi/covid-19-aefi-report.pdf?la=en.
  • Finally, regarding the common good, consider reflecting on the Catechism of the Catholic Church point 2024: 
    • “Sanctifying grace makes us “pleasing to God.” Charisms, special graces of the Holy Spirit, are oriented to sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. God also acts through many actual graces, to be distinguished from habitual grace which is permanent in us.”

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