Journaling Workbook for Caregivers

Journaling is a beneficial tool for supporting an individual’s mental health. It encourages self-reflection and connection. This is especially important for people who have experienced significant changes in their lives, and may want to use tools to cope with those changes. This includes brain injury. While you may not have a brain injury, someone important to you has – and when you are a caregiver, you are affected as well. You also need and deserve access to resources that can help you navigate brain injury.

We have created journaling workbooks designed specifically for caregivers of individuals with brain injury that can be viewed, downloaded, and used at your pace.

Journaling Introduction

This PDF guidebook explains the benefits of journaling; how to journal; and what you may expect from the journaling process.

Watch this video from a journaling expert on the start of the journaling process

Caregiver Journaling Workbook

Now that you have read the introduction, you are ready to begin. This workbook includes recommendations for journaling; guided prompts; and more journaling activities you can use after you have completed this book.

Watch this video from a journaling expert upon the completion of your workbook


Medicalert logo

MedicAlert – Making brain injury more visible

Brain Injury Canada has partnered with MedicAlert to bring support and visibility to individuals living with acquired brain injury (ABI).

Brain Injury Canada is proud to partner with MedicAlert, the largest membership-based charity in Canada and the leading provider of emergency medical information services. The partnership will support Brain Injury Canada’s mission to enhance the quality of life of individuals and families/caregivers living with brain injury.

Due to the invisible nature of brain injury, symptoms such as slowness to act, lack of impulse control, failure to respond to directions or communication challenges are often behavior that is misinterpreted as defiance. With MedicAlert protection, there’s an effective way to more easily identify brain injury survivors and ensure that they receive an appropriate response and support and raise awareness about brain injury throughout the police services, emergency response and criminal justice system.


If you or your loved one is in an emergency situation, it may not be possible to communicate effectively with emergency responders. The MedicAlert and Brain Injury Canada partnership is designed to empower emergency responders and police to provide you or your loved one with timely and customized care. Here’s how:

  • Our medically-trained professionals review your medical record. We help ensure emergency responders and healthcare professionals have the right information to care for you
  • Engraved using globally-accepted terminology. Standardized medical terminology on your ID is preferred by emergency responders and health professionals
  • Comprehensive medical profile on file. A medical ID alone can’t convey your full medical history. Only MedicAlert enables emergency responders to access your detailed medical profile
  • 24/7 Emergency Hotline with live agents. A live agent, not an automated service, answers your call within an average of 5 seconds
  • Family notification service. Only MedicAlert notifies your loved ones of your situation and location in an emergency
  • The most trusted protection. MedicAlert is the most trusted medical ID service among emergency responders

For only $60, brain injury survivors will receive*:

  • One year of MedicAlert service,
  • FREE MedicAlert ID
  • FREE shipping
  • FREE registration

Sign up today using offer code BIC2018N to receive this special offer.

CALL: (1-866) 696-0272

Red button to register for MedicAlert

For those individuals who have financial challenges, please call (1-800) 668-1507 to learn more about MedicAlert’s Membership Assistance charitable program.

We understand that not all Canadians can afford MedicAlert protection. We do not want to turn anyone away from our lifesaving service, so our Financial Assistance program provides partial or full financial assistance for MedicAlert IDs and service plans for eligible applicants.

*Free $39 ID or $39 off any ID. Free standard shipping only. Offer valid for new subscriber sign-ups only. Cannot be combined with other offers, some exceptions apply. A National Registered Charity 10686 3293 RR0001.

Life support

Life support is the term used to describe any combination of machines or medications that keeps a person’s bodily organs functioning when they would otherwise stop working [1]. In the case of brain injury, this may be a ventilator to help with breathing and other basic life functions.

Many things can happen when a person is on life support. In some cases, it can be used to help with surgeries, give a person time to heal, or extend a person’s life. Depending on their brain function, life support may just be extending a person’s life until their quality of life can be confirmed.

When your friend or family member is on life support due to a severe brain injury, it will be shocking and difficult. You may be put in the position of decision maker. If that is the case, you will need to prepare to talk with doctors and other family members who would be closely associated with the person. The information provided by the doctor will inform next steps.

Topics in this section include:

Going on life support

If the person is put on life support, it’s because it’s a matter of necessity. In the case of brain injury, it may be due to organ failure or a lack of brain function. Life support may be used temporarily to stabilize the patient until normal functioning can resume.

Doctors and nurses are the ones who generally make the decision about putting a patient on life support. The only exceptions are if the person has written medical instructions that says they don’t want to go on life support, or the person who has control over medical decisions for the patient declines it [2].

Transitioning off of life support

Whether or not a person will be able to come off life support will be determined by the doctor. If the person is able to transition off of life support, they will tell you about the process. They will then transition to the next stage of healing and recovery.

There is no set of rules for transitioning off life support, meaning that doctors can’t determine how long a person will need it. Factors such as the severity of the injury, the complexity of the person’s needs, and time all play a part – and they are also outside everyone’s control. As frustrating and scary as this is, the medical team is doing everything they can for your loved one. And if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. They will give you as much information as they can.

Removing life support after brain injury

You may be in a position where the doctor says there is nothing more that can be done for the person with a brain injury and they would not be able to survive off life support.

Removing life support after brain injury is an incredibly emotional and difficult decision. Any decisions will need to take into consideration the information by the doctor, the other family members, and ultimately any written wishes the person has left.

If you are faced with making this decision, it may be beneficial to consult with a trusted loved one, a therapist, or someone in your religious community (if you are religious).

There may also be support groups available made up of people who are (or have been) in your situation. Do some research on the Internet or ask the medical team if they know of anything.

Ultimately, the decision will be up to you. It’s a lot of responsibility, but remember that your loved one made you the medical power of attorney for a reason – they trusted you.

How to make decisions surrounding life support

Consult the person’s living will

The person on life support may have a living will that lays out plans for what to do in this situation. This may include whether the person wants to go on life support; how long they want to stay on life support; what conditions would need to be in place for them to be taken off life support; and what their wishes are in the event that they are taken off life support.

If a person does not want to be put on life support, the doctor will comply with those wishes. In the absence of any orders, the decision will be up to a family member or designated life guardian.

Talk to other family members

Other family members will have strong feelings and emotions surrounding the situation. It’s important to take their feelings into account, but also communicate the doctor’s findings to them.

Having a loved one on life support could make for some difficult conversations and family disagreements. Try prefacing conversations with the statement that any decisions need to be made for the person with the brain injury, not for you or others. Speak calmly and use the information the doctor has provided, and refer to any written wishes the person may have.

Consult with the doctors and other medical professionals

The person’s doctor will be able to provide the best recommendations when it comes to continuing life support or stopping it. Their advice may not be what you want to hear, but in some provinces and territories, the final decision does rest with the doctor in terms of supplying life support. The College of Physicians & Surgeons in your province/territory would have more information.

Ultimately, the doctor wants what’s best for the person on life support, the same as you and other family members.

Coping with feelings around life support

You may be feeling a lot of emotions in relation to your friend or family member being on life support, along with the pressures of being a decision maker. It is normal to feel a mixture of sadness, guilt and grief. Understanding these emotions can help you during the process.

Remember: your loved one trusted you. Even if you don’t have any formal medical power of attorney or wishes, they believed in you and your judgement. It’s an impossibly hard situation to be in: lean on your supporters, talk to the doctors, and most importantly, trust in yourself and the information you have received.


Circle of support

Supporting and caring for an individual living with a brain injury can leave both you and the survivor feeling isolated and alone. This may not be the case at first. While your loved one is in the hospital or when they first come home, people are dropping by to visit; food is being dropped off at home; and people are calling and texting for updates.

As time goes by, this often changes. You may realize your social circle, and the social circle of your friend or family member, has decreased significantly since the injury. The offers of help fade away, and you may be facing the daunting task of having to handle their care on your own.

People need the support of others, particularly when it comes to situations such as caring for someone with a brain injury. And you may have more support than you realize – you just need to take some time and visualize the whole network.

When you develop a circle of care, you build a network of people you know you can count on for support for yourself and your loved one.

An easy way to think of your circle of support is to draw a circle with you (or your loved one) at the centre. Depending on your situation, you may have multiple levels of support, with people to help your loved one or people to help you.

To develop your circle of support, you need to see which level is appropriate for each individual on your support team.

Circle of support diagram. A heart at the centre with 3 rings around with icons of people

Inner circle

The inner circle is usually those closest to the person with the brain injury or you. These are the people they rely on most and are more intimately involved in recovery and care. This is most likely where you would be when developing a circle of care for the person with the brain injury.

Other members of the inner circle of support/care can include:

  • Parents
  • Spouse/partners
  • Children
  • Siblings
  • Close friends

These are the people that you may ask to help you with some of your caregiving should you need assistance.

Middle circle

The next layer in the circle of care would include people who are involved in the person’s life, but perhaps not on a day-to-day basis. There may be a broad range of people in this circle. Examples include:

  • Aunts and uncles
  • Grandparents
  • Friends and their spouses or partners
  • Neighbours
  • Family friends
  • Spiritual/faith-based supports
  • Peers or classmates and their families
  • Colleagues

Outer circle

The outer circle is made up of people and organizations that may not be used daily but can still be relied upon for support. These can include:

Formal support members

The circle of support can also include more formal supports such as paid caregivers.  Depending on where the person is in their recovery, a formal support member may be in the middle circle (such as a case manage or personal support worker), or the outer circle (like a psychologist or family doctor).

The following people could be considered formal supports:

  • Doctor
  • Nurse
  • Physiotherapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Social Worker
  • Case Manager
  • Speech-Language Pathologist
  • Psychologist
  • Chiropractor
  • Lawyer

The circle of support is for both survivors and caregivers

While the circle of support is designed for the person with a brain injury, it’s also for you. If you are the primary caregiver, you are going to have a lot of responsibilities and much of your time will be devoted to your friend or family member. While caregiving is rewarding, it can also be stressful. It’s important that the primary caregiver has a support network that can assist them when they need respite. This is where the circle of support comes in handy.

Identify your circle of support

To help identify the circle of support, list all the people who have been in their life and have shown interest in maintaining a relationship or helping. You can also include people that have offered to help you with caregiving.

Identify areas where help is needed

Having a list of the tasks or activities where you may need support is helpful to have on hand. Break the list up into different categories such as daily tasks, weekly tasks, or occasional tasks.

The individual person and your relationship with them will determine where they fit in your circle of support. If they can help with smaller occasional things such as picking up your mail; dropping off a meal; driving you to appointments; or fixing a broken item in your home, they may belong in your outer circle. If the person can help with things that happen more often such as activities of daily living (ADLs), they may belong in your inner circle.

Fostering your circle

It’s important for your circle to come together and understand how important they are to you/the person with a brain injury. If you choose, you could introduce members of your circle to each other. By doing this, you are turning your circle of support into a true community.

You can also foster your circle by helping people understand what you and the person with a brain injury need.

There are several resources that may be helpful for those in your inner circle:

We all need people who can support us and building a circle of care is one of the best ways to ensure that you and the person with a brain injury get the support and compassion needed.

National personal protective measures

Along with the COVID-19 immunization program, Canadian provinces and territories have protective measures in place. When these personal protective measures are followed correctly and used together, these measures can help keep yourself and others safe.

While the safety measures differ depending on where you live, here are the most common personal protective measures you can take to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19.


To reduce the spread of COVID-19, Canada has put an immunization program in place to make COVID-19 vaccines free to anyone who chooses to receive them. These vaccines are administered through provincial/territorial programs, and help protect against COVID-19 and slow the spread of the virus.

Wear a mask

When your area has a mask mandate in effect, everyone who can must wear a face mask in public indoor settings or any place where physical distancing is a challenge. When interacting with members of your immediate household, you do not have to wear a mask unless you or a member of your household are in quarantine or isolation. The mask mandate may differ for specific people, situations, and areas. You can check with your local public health authority for specific mask rules in your area.
Wearing a face mask helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and can protect others around you. The virus can spread through respiratory droplets, which are droplets that are released when we talk, sneeze, cough, shout, and sing. When a person is infected with COVID-19, their respiratory droplets can infect other people if these droplets land on their mouths or noses, or if they are inhaled.

A mask acts as a barrier that can help stop respiratory droplets from spreading near other people. Masks work best when they are well-fitted and cover both your nose and mouth.

Wash your hands

Washing hands regularly helps stop the spread of COVID-19 and other germs. Germs can spread when you:

  • Touch your face with unwashed hands
  • Touch a contaminated surface or object with your hands
  • Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into your hands
  • Prepare or eat food with unwashed hands

Adapted from the Centre for Disease Control hand-washing information

Washing your hands can help eliminate these germs, which helps reduce the risk of you and other people from getting sick.

To wash your hands:

  1. Wet hands with running water
  2. Apply soap
  3. While your hands are out of the water, rub them together to cover all surfaces of your hands (including palms, back of hands, under nails, between fingers) for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse your hands well with running water
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel
  6. Turn off the tap using a towel

Adapted from the Government of Canada’s Reduce the spread of COVID-19: Wash your hands infographic

If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. Rub the hand sanitizer all over the palms, backs and between the fingers on your hands until dry.

Social/physical distance

Please note: The terms social distancing and physical distancing have been used interchangeably during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we will be using physical distancing.

Physical distancing means keeping distance from one another and limiting activities outside of our households. Depending on the recommendations of your local public health authority, physical distancing may be maintaining at least a 1 or 2-metre distance (about 6 feet) between yourself and others.

The purpose of physical distancing is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting contact with people as much as possible. You don’t need to physically distance yourself from people in your immediate household unless they are in quarantine or isolation.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects

Although it is not certain that COVID-19 spreads through contact surfaces and objects, the Government of Canada recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces or objects people come in contact with frequently, which are the most likely to become contaminated with germs. For example, door handles or light switches. If there are traces of COVID-19 on these surfaces or objects, cleaning and disinfecting them can help deactivate the virus so it is no longer infectious.

Avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada

Travelling outside of Canada may put you at greater risk of getting COVID-19. Other countries may have lower vaccination rates or safety protocols that are different from those in your area, like no mask mandate. This could result in COVID-19 spreading more easily.

Additionally, travelling outside of Canada means that there is a higher chance you could come into contact with variants of COVID-19 that are not common in your area. These variants may be able to spread more easily or be more resistant to known vaccines. For these reasons, non-essential travel should be avoided.

When you are ready to travel, it is important to research the requirements for the area. This may include a check in form or proof of vaccination. As the world starts opening up again, these requirements may change.

Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing

When coughing or sneezing, ensure that you do it into a tissue or the bend of your arm rather than into your hand or into the air. When coughs and sneezes are covered properly, there is less of a chance for the germs coming in contact with someone else. If you do use a tissue, make sure you dispose of it as soon as you can in a waste container. Afterwards, ensure that you wash your hands or sanitize.

Keep fresh air circulating when you are indoors

An outdoor setting is always better when interacting with other people during the pandemic. If you are with others indoors,  it’s best to have good ventilation to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Good ventilation exchanges indoor air for outdoor air. If a room feels crowded, stuffy, or smelly, the room is not well-ventilated. To increase ventilation, you can open windows and doors, or if possible run a central air system such as an air conditioner or heat pump.

Information on COVID-19 safety & health protocols by province/territory

You can find information on safety protocols based on your province/territory from the list below.

Food safety during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we do almost everything. To protect ourselves from contracting and spreading the virus, there are many new safety measures in place.

While we limit how much we go out, one thing that all of us do is grocery shop. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency ensures our foods are safe and healthy and the grocery stores themselves are doing their part to limit exposure. There are also no reports of COVID-19 being transmitted through food or food packaging. However, there are some basic health and food safety tips that can help you feel more comfortable shopping for food during COVID-19.

Wash your hands

Thorough hand washing is still one of the best ways to protect against the spread of COVID-19. You should wash your hands for a full 20-30 seconds with warm water and soap.

Use hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on carts and baskets

Most grocery stores have taken the responsibility to disinfect the shopping carts and baskets, and they are doing an incredible job. If you want to take some extra precaution, you can use disinfectant wipes on the handles of carts and baskets. You can also wipe down the top edges of the baskets and carts in case you think you may touch them at some point.

Wear your mask, and avoid touching your face

Masks are required in most places, particularly grocery stores where physical distancing isn’t always possible. Make sure that you put your mask on before you enter the store, and do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth during your shopping trip.

Only touch the groceries you intend to take

While shopping, limit the number of items you touch. Pick up only what you plan on purchasing.

Pay with a debit or credit card

If possible, always try to pay with a debit or credit card. with the TAP method. Avoid using cash as much as possible. If you must use cash, sanitize your hands before and after touching it.

Wash all your produce and wipe down your groceries

When you are home, there are a few precautions you can take to safely store your food.

  • Wipe down your plastic and cardboard containers, bottles, and bags with a disinfectant wipe
  • Wash your fruits and vegetables before putting them in the fridge or pantry
  • Once you have completed the wiping, washing, and disposing of grocery items, be sure to wipe down your table, counter, and sink with soap and water or with a disinfectant wipe/spray
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water

Reduce the number of times you shop by meal planning

Many people are planning their meals out over the course of 1-2 weeks so they don’t have to make frequent trips to the grocery store.

Meal planning may seem daunting if decision-making or planning ahead is something that you find difficult. But meal planning can actually reduce the need for quick decision-making and give you space to work on your planning skills.

Check to see if your local grocery store has special hours

Some grocery stores have special hours in place, with times set aside specifically for elderly individuals or people with disabilities. You can call your local store and ask about their policies.

Alternate methods of getting your groceries

Grocery shopping has changed immensely over the past year. The pandemic has placed restrictions on occupancy in stores, and stores have had to adapt. Home delivery and curbside pickup have become popular alternatives to shopping in person.

Home delivery allows you to order your groceries online and have them delivered to your home through a service. An example of this is Instacart. While this can be an effective substitution for in-person shopping, delivery times and product availability may be limited.

Curbside pickup allows you to order your groceries online or over the phone, and arrange to pick them up at the store’s location without going inside.

Another option is meal kits. Brands like Hello Fresh can deliver meals with portioned ingredients directly to your door, eliminating the need to go to the grocery store as much.

Whichever way you are able to get your food, the important thing is that you feel safe and comfortable. If you need help with grocery shopping or food safety, reach out to a family member or caregiver.

Additional information

How to talk about COVID-19 with friends & family

When it comes to COVID-19, we’re not always going to agree with the opinions of others. This is particularly true in the cases of masks, physical distancing, staying home, and the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, you’ve probably already had some awkward or even hostile conversations on the subject. You may be uncomfortable or even feel unsafe around certain people due to their different views/standards for safety.

Here are some tips for communicating about COVID-19.

Speak respectfully

Recognize that many people are scared, frustrated, and/or tired of COVID-19. Even if you feel this way, it’s important to speak to others with respect. You may completely disagree with a friend or family member, but you shouldn’t call them names, belittle, or dismiss them. This will only create more angry feelings and arguments.

Helpful phrases you can use in conversation

Some examples of phrases you can use when discussing COVID-19 with others include:

  • “I’m following the recommendations of my local health authority.”
  • “It’s a frustrating situation, but I’m making the decision that I feel is best for me and/or my household.”
  • “I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion.”
  • “For the health and mental well-being of myself, I’ll be [say what action you will be taking here].”
  • “Since I’m [or someone in your household] at a higher risk for catching COVID-19, I would feel the most comfortable having a virtual call.”

If you are having trouble keeping the conversation respectful, the best course of action would be to change the subject (“With respect, I don’t feel that I can talk about this right now”) or remove yourself from the situation.

Don’t judge others

We are all trying to do the best we can. Yes, there will be some people who don’t treat the pandemic as seriously as you. There may also be people who treat it more seriously than you. You are fully entitled to disagree with someone, but judging them or criticizing them isn’t going to be helpful.

If you do want to talk to someone about their views on COVID, refer back to the first tip (speak respectfully). It may also help to have some information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and your local health authority to which you can refer.

If you are uncomfortable with another person’s views and safety measures and they are not respectful of your views, you may have to make the decision to not see or speak to them for a while. While this is challenging, you need to keep your own physical and mental health a priority.

Don’t dismiss the distress or frustration of others

We often want to try and make people feel better. While our intentions are good, saying things like “at least you’re better off than other people” or “everything will be okay”, or even “you’ll get through it” can actually make a person feel more upset. They may experience shame for feeling bad, or feel like they can’t express themselves without being told to “look on the bright side.” You may be experiencing the same things.

Instead, say phrases like, “I know this is hard, and I’m scared too.” Empathy is important, and many times in situations like these, people just want to feel seen/understood.

If you want to learn more, here is an article on this kind of interaction (called “dismissive positivity) from Psychology Today.

Suggest alternative ways to communicate

Many of us are missing people in our lives, and we’re not getting to see them in person anymore. It’s incredibly tough. While it’s not the same, there are alternate ways to stay in touch for now. This can include video calls, texting, email, phone calls, or even traditional letters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in Canada.


How does COVID-19 affect individuals with brain injury?
Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 virus and the lack of peer-reviewed research on COVID-19 specific to those with brain injury, we cannot report how this virus affects individuals with existing acquired brain injuries. We follow the guidelines and recommendation provided by both the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada. We encourage everyone who can to consider COVID-19 vaccination and continue to practice physical distancing, washing hands regularly, wearing masks, and following your local guidelines.

The COVID-19 vaccines

How do the vaccines work?
The vaccines provide the information your cells need to recognize and learn how to fight COVID-19.
What’s an mRNA vaccine?
An mRNA vaccine is a vaccine that includes compounds that help teach your cells how to recognize and fight COVID-19. Learn more about mRNA vaccines in this article.
Are the current COVID-19 vaccines effective against the variants?
Research shows that the current vaccines are effective against variants of COVID-19. This is because they include a broad range of antibodies that can identify components in the variants. Learn more on the World Health Organization website
How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?
The first dose is 90% effective after 14 days. The second dose increases that effectiveness to 95%.
What does “% effectiveness” mean?
The protection vaccines provide is measured in percentages. This means that a vaccine with 80% effectiveness provides 80% protection against its disease.
How does Canada test the vaccines?
The COVID-19 vaccine was developed thanks to decades of research and development of vaccines. Health Canada has an independent drug authorization process that relies on medical and scientific evidence.

More information about Health Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine authorization process

What are the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines?
Each COVID-19 vaccine has its own formula. You can find the ingredients for the three main COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada here.

What if I am allergic to ingredients in one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines?
If you are allergic to one or more ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines, you should speak with a doctor about your options.

COVID-19 vaccination process

Who is eligible for a vaccine?
Canadians aged 12 and up are eligible for vaccines, though age ranges depend on the type of vaccine.
Is the vaccine safe for children, pregnant women, and people with other health conditions?
Children under the age of 12 are not currently able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Pregnant women and individuals with other health conditions should consult with a doctor before getting the vaccine.
How does the vaccination process work?
A vaccine is administered in two doses over the course of several weeks. It is given through a needle in the arm, and is a relatively quick process. After the needle, there is a 15-20 minute waiting period where doctors can monitor for any side effects.
When can I get the vaccine?
As of July 2021, the majority of Canadians 12 years of age and older are eligible for the first dose of vaccine. The second dose is made available based upon the date of your first dose.
What does it cost to get vaccinated?
It is free for you to get a vaccine.
What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
Vaccines for COVID-19 are protecting Canadians from serious COVID-19 illnesses, and allowing families to reunite, businesses to open up, and other activities to resume.
Can I get the vaccine if I’m sick with COVID-19?
You are not eligible to get the vaccine if you currently have COVID-19. The general recommendation is that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for those who are not contagious.
If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need the COVID-19 vaccine?
A person who has had COVID-19 should still get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because researchers do not know how much protection antibodies left by the disease provide. The vaccine provides extra protection.
Can I choose which COVID-19 vaccine to get?
In most circumstances, you are not able to pick which vaccine you receive, as it depends on what doses are available at the clinics or pharmacy.

If you are allergic to one or more of the vaccines, you should speak with a doctor or your local health authority about finding an appropriate solution.

How long does the COVID-19 vaccine last?
We’re not yet sure how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccine will last. But vaccine experts are working hard to find an answer. What they do know is that the vaccine is effective, and will offer much higher protection against the disease.
Why do I need two doses of vaccine?
The mRNA vaccines Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and the AstraZeneca vaccine are given in two doses in order to provide the highest level of protection.
Can I get a different vaccine for my second dose?
Yes, you can get a different vaccine for your second dose. Both Pfizer and Moderna are the same type of vaccine, and work well together to provide highly effective protection.

Second doses are typically determined based on the available supply of vaccines.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’ve gotten a different kind of vaccine?
If you have had a vaccine for a different health condition within the 2 weeks before your appointment, you will not be able to get the vaccine. Check with a doctor if you aren’t sure of your eligibility.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. According to experts from Vancouver Coastal Health, if you were exposed to the virus before you got either dose of the vaccine, you may be at risk of getting COVID-19. It also takes 2 weeks for each dose of the vaccine to come into full effect, which means that within those 2 weeks, you may still be at risk of getting sick.
Will COVID-19 vaccine interact with my medication or treatments?
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for the majority of people taking medication or with medical conditions. However, health authorities are recommending that people who are pregnant; have an autoimmune condition; are taking medication that suppresses the immune system; or have a pre-existing health condition should consult with their doctor before getting the vaccine.
What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?
Common side effects of the different kinds of COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever or chills

These side effects are commonly short-term. For more information about COVID-19 vaccine symptoms, Ottawa Public Health has a helpful chart.

What do I do if I experience side effects?
If you have some common side effects, they commonly disappear after a few days, and require no medical treatment.

If you are experiencing any side effects or have any concerns, you should speak with a doctor.

For any emergency medical situations, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Do I need to continue wearing a mask and physical distancing after my vaccine?
While the vaccine is highly effective, as the pandemic is still going on, it is recommended in many provinces and territories to continue physical distancing and wearing a mask.

For more specific information, check with your local or provincial/territorial health authority.

Can I travel when I have the vaccine?
Travel within Canada is allowed, but each province and territory has requirements for travelers. For example, this could include periods of self-isolation depending on your vaccine status.

International travel is also subject to restrictions.

Will I receive a vaccine/immunization record?
You will receive a record of your vaccination. Each province and territory has its own appointment booking system, and how you receive your record of vaccination will change.
Are there alternative formats for immunization records?
Immunization records are commonly provided digitally, with the ability for them to be printed.
I got my first dose in a different province/territory. How do I get my second dose?
Many provinces/territories are using out-of-province forms or web-based portals to help track immunization. Each province and territory has its own vaccine appointment booking system. As such, you will have to visit the booking site to find the specific process.
How do I decide if getting the vaccine is the right choice?
The decision to get a vaccine is an important one. The vaccine can help protect individuals and their families from the effects of COVID-19, prevent serious long-term effects from the illness, and enable Canada’s reopening. It also is making it possible for families and friends to reconnect in person.

While the decision may be easy for some, it is important to take your time and talk to health professionals if you have any questions.

Do I need a third dose of the vaccine?
Some provinces/territories are beginning to offer a third dose of eligible COVID-19 vaccines to select groups of people who are most at risk of serious illness. This is to offer as much protection as possible for those who may have immune system complications.

If you are not sure whether a third dose is appropriate for you, speak with your doctor.

What is a vaccine passport, and why are some provinces/territories considering them?
A vaccine passport is another term for a certificate or document that proves someone’s vaccination status. In the case of COVID-19, it would show the number of COVID-19 doses a person has. Canada is working on a national COVID-19 vaccine passport that Canadians can use for international travel – but it is up to each province and territory to decide if they are going to use vaccine passports for use within the province/territory.

COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Are the vaccine sites accessible?
Each vaccine clinic is different, and as such will meet different accessibility needs. If possible, ask about accessibility and identify your own needs when you make the appointment.

For more information about accessibility, consult with your health authority.

How do I help someone book their vaccine or provide consent if I am their caregiver?
In order to provide consent on behalf of someone else, you need to be legally recognized as their proxy. Some health authorities, such as Ottawa Public Health, have COVID-19 consent forms or allow caregivers to accompany the patient to their appointments. You will need to confirm with your own health authority on the process.
Am I allowed to go with someone to their appointment if they need support?
While this may be entirely dependent on individual clinics, in general people are allowed to bring someone to their appointment – or to ask for additional assistance. You should check with your clinic location to ensure this is allowed.
I’m not able to leave my home – can I still get the vaccine?
This depends on the capabilities of your local health authority immunization program. To find out if you are in an area that offers home vaccinations, visit the website or call your city or province’s health authority.
Can I bring a caregiver with me when I get vaccinated?
The policy for bringing someone with you to an appointment depends on each health authority. The majority of immunization plans include making sure that those who need a caregiver or extra assistance are able to have it at their appointments. To confirm that you are able to bring someone to your appointment at a clinic or pharmacy, check with your health authority.
What should I bring to my appointment?
You should bring confirmation of your appointment (this could be a code or a document), your health card or photo identification, and a mask.

It is recommended to wear short sleeves so it is easy for the vaccine to be administered. After your vaccine, there is a 15-minute waiting period so that you can be monitored. Some people like to bring a book or headphones to listen to music during this time.

Do the needles hurt?
With most needles, the person receiving the shot will feel a small pinch. If you have any questions about needles, these should be referred to a doctor.
What happens if I miss my vaccine appointment?
If you miss your vaccine appointment, you will need to reschedule it through your province or territory’s booking system.


COVID-19 vaccines & accessibility

The following presentation is about making an accessibility plan for COVID-19 vaccines in Canada. Navigate the presentation by click the arrows at the bottom of the slides. You can also make the presentation full screen by clicking the icon in the bottom right-hand corner.

You can also watch a narrated version of the presentation:

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines are used in health care to help protect people from diseases. As Canada continues its immunization plan for COVID-19, you may have some questions about how vaccines work.

How vaccines fight against viruses

When the COVID-19 virus enters your body, it triggers your immune system. Your body’s immune system is a set of mechanisms that are designed to fight off invaders, like viruses. Often the sickness you feel is your body at work fighting off the disease. Once your body’s immune system has fought off a virus, it remembers that particular virus and knows how to find and destroy it before it causes the disease again. This is called immunity.

A vaccine protects against disease by helping your immune system create antigens – these are parts of organisms designed specifically to fight a virus/disease., helping the immune system prepare a good response before the actual disease is present.

The current COVID-19 vaccines fall into two types [1].

mRNA vaccines

mRNA vaccines provide instructions to your cells for how to make a coronavirus protein antigen. Once your cells have made the coronavirus protein, this protein will trigger a response from your immune system that will help to protect you against COVID-19.

Think of it like building a piece of furniture from a kit. The company provides you with the instructions and the materials you need to build the furniture. An mRNA vaccine works the same way.

Pfizer and Moderna brand COVID-19 vaccines are examples of mRNA vaccines. If you would like to see a visual representation of how an mRNA vaccine works, view this infographic from the University of Waterloo | School of Pharmacy.

You can also watch this Health Canada video on mRNA vaccines.

Viral vector vaccines

Viral vector vaccines supply ready-to-use antigens to produce coronavirus proteins in your body without causing disease. Just like mRNA vaccines, these antigens will trigger a response from your immune system.

Remember, antigens fight disease: pathogens carry the disease.

No matter what kind of vaccine you get, it gives you a much higher level of protection from life-threatening disease than having no vaccine.

Why do I need two doses?

The COVID-19 vaccine is administered in two doses, several weeks apart. By doing this, your cells can form a long memory. They’ll recognize and fight the COVID-19 pathogens for a long time [2].

Vaccines don’t just protect you – they protect your loved ones

The more people who get vaccinated, the harder it is for the COVID-19 disease to infect your community. Think of it like a protective wall – the disease can’t get through.

There are some people who unfortunately can’t get vaccinated because of health conditions or allergies. But your vaccination can protect them, because it means the disease most likely won’t be passed on by you.

And if everyone in that person’s life gets vaccinated, they have a much higher chance of not getting the disease.

More information on COVID-19 vaccines

We have more resources on COVID-19 vaccines, including how to access them and answers to frequently asked questions.

[1] How do vaccines work? | The World Health Organization
[2] How do vaccines work? | The World Health Organization