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Hospital  >  Patients & Visitors  >  COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus): information & resources  >  COVID-19 Information and Resources  >  COVID-19 Vaccine: Frequently asked questions

COVID-19 Vaccine: Frequently Asked Questions

Sunnybrook is following the Government of Ontario's direction for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. We currently do not have a timeline for when the public or patients will get the vaccine. There is no list to get on. Our phone operators have no additional information at this time. Please keep our phone lines free for patients who have questions about their appointments or care. You can read more about the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan on the Government of Ontario website.

Vaccine distribution

I’m a patient at Sunnybrook. When will I get the vaccine?

We are following Government of Ontario's direction for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. We currently do not have a timeline for when the public or patients will get the vaccine. Our phone operators have no additional information at this time. Please keep our phone lines free for patients who have questions about their appointments or care. You can read more about the government’s rollout plan on the Government of Ontario website.

I'm a patient at Sunnybrook. Should I call my care team or clinic to talk about the vaccine?

Unfortunately, our staff have no additional information about the vaccine or its rollout than what is posted here. Please do not call your Sunnybrook care team for information about accessing the vaccine at the hospital, as they have been experiencing high call volumes for other appointment-related questions.

Is there a "vaccine list" I can get on?

There is no vaccine list for hospital patients at Sunnybrook. We are not registering hospital patients for the vaccine or noting interest in the vaccine at this time.​

Who will get vaccinated first in Ontario?

We are following guidance from the government for this first distribution phase, which has prioritized the following groups to receive the vaccine:

  • Residents and staff of congregate care home settings, such as Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre
  • Health care workers (including people who work and/or study in hospitals) and essential caregivers
  • Adults in remote First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities
  • Adult recipients of chronic home health care

A provincial task force is developing a more detailed framework that will provide vaccine distributors, including hospitals, with more guidance on who should be vaccinated and in what order. Please visit the Government of Ontario website for more information about when the vaccine will become available to the public and the rollout and distribution plans. Learn more »

Who could I talk to about getting the vaccine?

Please visit the Ministry of Health’s website for more information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Once people start getting the vaccine, how long will it be until Sunnybrook starts to return to normal, like lifting visitor restrictions and removing the universal masking requirement?

It will still be some time before we can begin to return to “normal.” Even the best estimates predict that only 3 million Canadians will be vaccinated by spring 2021, so it’s important for everyone to realize that protective measures, such as masks and physical distancing, will need to continue until enough people are vaccinated to create collective herd immunity.

Vaccine development

How is it possible for a vaccine to go from the early stages of development to mass production and distribution in less than a year? Shouldn’t the manufacturers take more time to make sure this vaccine is safe?

Normally, vaccines and medications have longer development periods that take a couple of years to move from the lab to clinical use. However, given the focused energy and global need for a vaccine, many of the hurdles encountered in normal product development have been overcome in a record amount of time. To accomplish this, the researchers used strategies like combining phases of a clinical trial (eg. designing a Phase I/II trial) in order to get more data sooner that can help save time.

Importantly, lots of resources (financial, scientific, logistical etc.) were put into vaccine programs allowing the research to progress rapidly. Despite the tightened timeframe, approving bodies across the world in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada have conducted thorough reviews of the process and have deemed the vaccine to be safe.

How was the vaccine actually developed?

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the development of new and innovative vaccine technologies – including messenger RNA (mRNA).

Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines contain the genetic code for producing “spike” proteins – the distinctive protrusions that dot the surface of the coronavirus. When delivered in a vaccine, the mRNA enters the body’s cells and instructs them to churn out spike proteins. Human cells immediately recognize these are “foreign” proteins and alert the immune system to start generating protective antibodies.

The key advantage of an mRNA vaccine is that the synthetic raw materials can be produced faster than some traditional vaccines, like flu shots, which rely on viral samples grown in eggs.

At the same time, mRNA is inherently unstable. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which creates some additional challenges when it comes to distributing the doses.

Safety/side effects

I’ve heard reports in the news of people experiencing side effects after getting the vaccine. What are they?

Forty-four thousand people participated in Pfizer’s clinical trial of this vaccine. Because the trial was randomized, not every participant received the vaccine (some received a placebo). Of those who did actually receive the vaccine, participants reported some side effects including fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever and joint pain, which generally resolved after a day. One nurse researcher recently wrote about her experience receiving the vaccine during the Pfizer trial in JAMA.

How do we know Pfizer properly evaluated the safety of the vaccine during clinical trials?

Throughout Pfizer’s vaccine trial, progress was (and continues to be) closely tracked by an external group of independent experts, called a Data Monitoring Committee (DMC), which also monitors the study for safety on an ongoing basis. To date, the Data Monitoring Committee for the study has not reported any serious safety concerns related to the vaccine. More information is available on Pfizer’s website. Importantly, all the safety data was reviewed independently by organization such as Health Canada as requirement for vaccine approval.

How effective is the vaccine?

The vaccine was found to be 95% effective in trial participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (the virus responsible for COVID-19) and also in participants with or without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, in each case at 7 days after the second dose.

How can we trust that the vaccine will be safe long-term?

There is a rigorous testing process that happens before a vaccine gets approved, and safety is a key factor that is examined. Follow-up studies are also conducted on vaccines to look at longer-term effects. The vaccines currently approved for other diseases (e.g. flu, hepatitis B etc.) all have excellent safety profiles, and the same standards apply to any COVID-19 vaccine used in Canada.

Is it possible that getting the COVID-19 vaccine could actually give me the virus?

No. The Pfizer vaccine only contains parts of the virus, such as a protein from the virus, or a bit of the genome. This is what allows your immune system to be trained to recognize SARS-CoV-2 later if you get infected, and keeps you protected from it.

How many doses do people need to get for the vaccine to work?

You would need to get two doses, 21 days apart.


Why is Sunnybrook receiving the vaccine?

Sunnybrook has the ability to store and distribute the vaccine in a safe manner. The hospital is a distribution site for locations in North Toronto, such as long-term care homes.

Which COVID-19 vaccine is Sunnybrook receiving?

We are receiving Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was approved for use by Health Canada on December 9, 2020 after a two-month review of Pfizer’s clinical trial data was completed.

When did Sunnybrook receive its first vaccine shipment?

Sunnybrook received our first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020, and began administering doses on December 22, 2020. Learn more »

How was the Pfizer vaccine chosen as the one Sunnybrook will receive?

Clinical trials were conducted by multiple manufacturers in different populations (young healthy individuals, the elderly etc.) to determine which vaccine and dose works best in different groups. The Pfizer vaccine was the first of those manufacturers to have its COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada.