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Episode 2: Four vaccines, four ways to protect against COVID-19

“It's both astounding and incredible that we actually have vaccines available to us.”
St. Albert Signal

Welcome to the second episode of the St. Albert Signal, a weekly community podcast about the St. Albert area. Listen to the second episode below:

Albertans should get whatever vaccine is available to them rather than wait around for their preferred brand, says an infectious disease doctor.

Daniel Gregson, researcher at the University of Calgary and infectious disease expert, says the breadth of vaccine available so early in the pandemic is a good sign.

“That we have a vaccine at all is quite amazing. And to remember, it's a year since they declared a pandemic ... and there was no vaccine at that point in time.

“It's both astounding and incredible that we actually have vaccines available to us.”

Gregson says it is important that there are multiple vaccines approved because no one manufacturer could make enough to inoculate the global population.

But with multiple vaccines comes the option to choose between different brands, and the Alberta government has said it will allow residents to choose which shot they want to get.

Gregson says the best vaccine to get is the one that is first available.

“I don't want to be in the ICU, I want my vaccine as soon as possible, that’s my mantra. So I think that the vaccine that's in your arm is the best one you can get,” Gregson said.

In Canada, there are currently four vaccines available to the public, including two that use mRNA technology (Pfizer and Moderna) and two viral-based vaccines (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca).

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose while the other three require a second shot for full immunity.

As all four are different, Gregson said it's not possible to compare the efficacy of them. The trials for each vaccine were run in different populations, during different times in the pandemic, in different countries and the definitions of mild, moderate and severe outcomes were defined differently in each trial.

All four of the vaccines prevent hospitalizations, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions and death at a similar rate, Gregson said.

“I think they all get to the same point in different ways.”

After just a year of the pandemic, having four vaccines approved in Canada may seem like a speedy timeline, but Gregson said vaccines are very safe, with a very small chance of a reaction to the shot. The risk of catching COVID-19 and ending up with a severe outcome or living with the effects of long-term COVID-19 is much higher than having a small reaction to the vaccine, he added – one in 400,000 shots results in an anaphylactic reaction, but if 400,000 people older than 50 contracted COVID-19, 500 to 600 of them could die and many more would be hospitalized.

“These vaccines are now being administered to millions of people and the rates of side effects are very low,” Gregson said.

Gregson said he understands people are hesitant about the vaccine, but for him, it is a more difficult decision to figure out what to make for supper than it is to decide if he should get the vaccine when it is available to him.

“The advantage of the vaccine far outweighs the risk of any side effects."