With vaccines against COVID-19 beginning to roll out across the country, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. If you are among the six million Canadians with arthritis, you may be wondering if vaccination is for you?

Here is what we know (as of Feb. 16, 2021).

The two vaccines approved for use in Canada require two doses for full vaccination. Both vaccines work by giving your cells instructions on how to make a piece of the virus called a protein. Your immune system learns to recognize the protein. If you become infected with the virus, your body gets rid of the infection so you don’t become sick. These vaccines do not contain live COVID-19 virus.

The benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine are: 

  • Prevention: the vaccines currently approved in Canada prevent 70-95 per cent of COVID-19 infections in people who get the vaccines.  
  • Reduction: COVID-19 is less severe in people who get the vaccine but who still get sick.   
  • Protection: getting vaccinated helps protect people around you. 
  • There are some possible temporary side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, including: 
  • Sore arm at injection site 
  • Tiredness 
  • Fever, chills 
  • Headache 
  • Temporarily swollen lymph nodes 
  • General muscle or joint pain 

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that all Canadian adults receive a COVID-19 vaccination to protect themselves and others. This recommendation comes with a caveat – or caution – for certain groups however, including those with rheumatic disease.  

If you have osteoarthritis 

There are no caveats for individuals with osteoarthritis, so if you have this form of arthritis, you are encouraged to get the vaccine when it is available to you.  

If you have a rheumatic disease 

We don’t yet know about the side effects or how well COVID-19 vaccines work in people with autoimmune rheumatic diseases because people with these conditions were mostly excluded from vaccine trials. 

Because of this, NACI recommends that people who are immunosuppressed because of disease or medications they are taking be offered the vaccine if a risk assessment deems that the benefits outweigh the potential risks for the individual. For more information, visit NACI’s website (under “Vaccines” and “Recommendations”). 

We do know that other vaccines, like flu vaccines, provide adequate protection for most people with autoimmune conditions, with side effects similar to the general population. Other vaccines don’t usually trigger flares of autoimmune conditions. We’ll learn more as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccines. Much like the flu vaccine, you should speak with your healthcare provider to discuss the risk and benefits of your specific situation.  

The Canadian Rheumatology Association has created a decision aid for people with autoimmune rheumatic disease who are over 18 to use in their discussions with their health-care provider.   

Children and the COVID-19 vaccine 

The two vaccines currently approved for use in Canada are not approved for people under 18 (Moderna) or under 16 (Pfizer).  

COVID-19 infection does seem to be milder in children than in adults or older individuals. Currently, there is no evidence that children with auto-inflammatory diseases are more likely to contract COVID-19 or to have a worse case.  

As some schools across the country are offering in-person learning, you may want to discuss with your child’s rheumatologist if any additional precautions need to be taken to keep your child safe.  

Cassie + Friends has created a COVID-19 parental FAQ, which includes specific real-life examples. 

The Arthritis Society regularly updates its COVID-19 and arthritis webpage with the latest information, so consider bookmarking the page and checking back regularly.  

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