The Pfizer vaccine is now being administered in Australia, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is not far behind. Read on for answers to all your vaccine-related questions.

Which vaccines?

There will be two types of vaccines available in Australia, with most people getting the AstraZeneca jab.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

There will be two types of vaccines available in Australia, with most people getting the AstraZeneca jab.

Which vaccines will we get in Australia?

The Australian government has agreements with four different coronavirus vaccine suppliers, costing more than $3.3 billion.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has now approved two vaccines, made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine started yesterday, with 20 million doses soon to be available.

This vaccine is manufactured offshore and needs two doses — taken 21 days apart — to be effective.

Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine; 50 million doses will be manufactured in monthly batches by medical giant CSL and 3.8 million will be delivered to Australia in early 2021.

Most Australians will get the AstraZeneca jab, which also needs two doses, taken 12 weeks apart.

Which vaccine will I get?

Vulnerable and high priority groups — including people working in quarantine and aged care — will likely get the Pfizer jab, while most Australians will get the AstraZeneca option.

A spokesperson for the federal health department told us that “specific vaccines will be administered based on availability and subject to any determination made by the Therapeutic Goods Administration”.

And chief medical officer Paul Kelly previously said most Australians would get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Can I pick which vaccine I get?

No. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved two vaccines — Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

People in the highest priority groups are more likely to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Both are safe and effective at preventing sickness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Can I mix and match vaccines?

It’s not recommended.

In February, Professor Brendan Murphy, secretary of the federal department of health, said it would be “silly to mix and match” the coronavirus vaccines.

“All the evidence would suggest that you’re better off having … the same vaccine for the second dose to give you the best immune protection,” he said.

“We are planning our rollout to make sure everyone has access to two doses of the same vaccine.”

Access in Australia

Australia’s vaccine rollout has begun, with some people already receiving the Pfjizer jab.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

Australia’s vaccine rollout has begun, with some people already receiving the Pfjizer jab.

Is the vaccine free?

Yes, in Australia the COVID-19 vaccine will be free.

When can I expect to get my vaccine?

The first people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia got it yesterday.

The rollout is starting with the most vulnerable people — such as quarantine and border workers — and the government has stated a target of 80,000 doses per week to begin with, ramping up to 4 million doses by the end of March.

Everyone who wants a vaccine should have been offered one by the end of October 2021.

Find out where you are in the queue here.

Are the vaccines compulsory?

No. It will be voluntary to get vaccinated for coronavirus in Australia.

However, everyone in Australia will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine and there are enough doses to go around.

Will some people be made to get one?

The Prime Minister said the vaccine would be voluntary, but he wants as many Australians as possible to have the jab.

That means no-one will be forced to be vaccinated, but it’s unclear whether people in specific professions, such as aged care or health care, will have to have a vaccine to go to work.

The federal government said it “strongly encouraged” vaccination among people who worked in community and in-home aged care.

Workers and residents who choose to get a COVID-19 vaccine will get the jab at their residential aged care facility.

Is anyone precluded from getting the vaccine?

Children are not part of the current rollout plan: the Pfizer shot is not yet approved for kids 16 and younger and the AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t approved for people 18 and younger.

For people with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems, and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, there is less data about these vaccines than for other, healthy adults.

For now, Australian authorities recommend immunisation be done on a case-by-case basis.

“While the risks associated with COVID-19 infection and potential complications are likely to outweigh the risk of side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine, you are encouraged to discuss any concerns with your doctor or pharmacist,” a health department spokeswoman said.

What if I’m feeling sick?

If you are unwell, it’s recommended that you defer your vaccine appointment until you feel better.

Do I need to get the vaccine if I’ve already had coronavirus?

According to guidance from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), a previous infection with COVID-19 is “not a contraindication to vaccination”, which means there’s no additional risk and getting the vaccine is still a good idea.

There is evidence that catching COVID-19 can itself reduce your risk of reinfection for at least 5-6 months, so the ATAGI also says that people who have had a confirmed case of the virus “may wish to defer vaccination for up to six months from the time of their infection”.

What happens if I contract the virus between the first and second dose?

Again, past infection with COVID-19 is not a contraindication to vaccination, so there’s no additional risk for the second dose if you’ve had the infection and recovered.

But this is a very specific situation and it’s best to discuss options with your doctor after your recovery.

Vaccine background

Manufacturers are confident of being able to adapt their vaccines to be able to combat new variants.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

Manufacturers are confident of being able to adapt their vaccines to be able to combat new variants.

Weren’t they developed really quickly?

Yes. Researchers were able to develop multiple protective coronavirus vaccines and get them authorised within 12 months of the virus being discovered.

The fast turn-around was the result of a mix of things — previous research, pandemic preparations, billions in government funding, decreased bureaucracy and back-to-back trials.

But safety was not compromised.

If the vaccines need to stay cold, how are they transported and delivered?

Very carefully. It’s a complex process because vaccines have to be transported through what is known as a “cold chain”, where they remain refrigerated as they move through the different stages of shipping — from manufacturer to port, then to another country and to clinics.

This is especially important for the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept below -70 degrees Celsius.

While every effort will be made to keep them safe from spoilage, Australia has 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 20 million of the Pfizer option, so if a few doses are wasted, there will still be enough to vaccinate everyone with two doses each.

Will the vaccines work against the UK variant?

At this stage the answer is yes, but more research is needed.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the UK and may be 36 to 71 per cent more transmissible than the original virus.

One small-scale laboratory study suggests the Pfizer vaccine will be effective against the UK variant.

And early results show AstraZeneca performs reasonably well against the UK variant.

Will the vaccines work against the South African variant?

Yes, but they appear to be less effective. And again, more research is needed.

The B.1.351 strain of coronavirus, often referred to as the South African variant, is believed to be 50 per cent more transmissible than existing strains.

One small-scale laboratory study suggests the Pfizer vaccine will be effective against this variant, although it won’t perform as well as it does against the original strain.

So it’s not just AstraZeneca which is less effective against the South African variant; all existing vaccines appear to be less effective, including the Novavax vaccine.

What to expect

The Department of Health will make an eligibility tracker available on its website.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

The Department of Health will make an eligibility tracker available on its website.

How will I know it’s my turn?

If you are in the phase 1A cohort (a group which includes aged care residents and border control workers), the government or your employer will get in touch with you to organise your jab.

If you’re in a later group, it’s a good idea to stay COVID safe and wait for further updates.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health explained that the way people will be notified depends on which phase they fit under.

And she said the Australian government would provide further information about how vaccines would roll out over the coming months.

“An eligibility checker will be available through the Department of Health website to support clinicians and help consumers understand if they are part of the priority cohort at that time,” she said.

Find out when you are likely to be offered a vaccine here.

How much notice will I get prior to getting the vaccine?

We’re not really sure. The Australian government said it would provide further information about how vaccines would roll out over the coming months.

Do I get the flu vaccine or the COVID-19 jab first?

It doesn’t matter which one you get first, as long as you wait two weeks between shots.

So you could get your AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot, then the flu jab and then your second COVID-19 vaccine dose.

This may be a balancing act depending on which vaccine you are receiving — the Pfizer needs two shots taken 21 days apart — so best to ask your doctor.

Where do I go to get the vaccine?

Around 240 aged care facilities in nearly 200 towns across the country will be some of the first places to have the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine rolled out.

Vaccination teams will go out to residential aged care and disability care facilities.

And states and territories will initially have 16 Pfizer vaccination hubs — based in hospitals — for quarantine workers and other top-tier priority groups to get vaccinated.

The government’s plan is for the Pfizer vaccine to be delivered at up to 50 hospital sites across Australia.

As the rollout continues, the vaccine will be made available at GP respiratory clinics, general practices that meet specific requirements, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, and state-run vaccination clinics.

Does it hurt?

It’s a needle, so if you’re someone who usually feels a bit of a pain when getting the flu jab, this one may hurt as well.

Not everyone is super pumped to get vaccinated and for people with needle fear or needle phobia, it can be a real ordeal — so we’ve put together some tips on how to overcome your trypanophobia.

If the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -70C, will it freeze my arm?

It’s stored and transported frozen, then thoroughly thawed before being given to you.

Frozen vials are transferred to 2C or 8C environments to thaw for about three hours; or thawed in room temperature rooms for about 30 minutes and then given immediately.

How long should I wait around after the injection?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends you be observed for at least 15 minutes after being vaccinated, just to make sure you don’t have any unusual reactions.

Of course, if you have a history of anaphylaxis to any antigen (including food, insect stings, medicines) or if you have an adrenaline autoinjector (such as an EpiPen), you should let medical professionals know, and be monitored for 30 minutes after your vaccine.

Why do I need to wait 15 minutes?

Waiting for 15 minutes allows health workers to watch you for any signs of an allergic reaction. That way if anything does go wrong, you’re in the right place for help and support.

What if I can’t get the second dose on time, or I forget?

It’s recommended that you have your two Pfizer doses 21 days apart and the AstraZeneca jabs 12 weeks apart.

If you miss the second dose, it’s best to discuss this with your doctor who will likely book you in for your second appointment straight away.

What if I move states between doses?

New laws have just been passed mandating the recording of COVID-19 vaccine information on the Australian Immunisation Register.

The Federal Government has also announced that Australians will be able to provide proof of vaccination through an app on their phone.

This means that if you move interstate between jabs, it will be very easy to prove you’d had the first dose.

Safety and side effects

You may experience minor side effects, particularly after the second jab.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

You may experience minor side effects, particularly after the second jab.

Are the vaccines safe?

Yes. Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, a process which involves a series of rigorous safety checks.

The approvals are on a provisional basis, meaning they are valid for two years — but they were thorough and formal approvals, in contrast to the “emergency use” authorisations issued by some other countries.

Can I catch COVID from the vaccine?

No. You are not being injected with a live virus, and these vaccinations cannot cause COVID-19.

Will I feel sick after the COVID vaccine?

According to clinical trials, yes, you may feel a bit unwell after the jab — especially after the second one.

The US Center for Disease Control describes this as “normal signs that your body is building protection”.

Think of it as a positive sign — the vaccine is doing what it’s meant to and helping your body develop immunity to the virus.

What side effects might I experience?

You may experience minor side effects following vaccination, especially after the second jab.

Common reactions include pain, tiredness, headache and joint pain. Less common side effects include redness at the site of injection, nausea and insomnia.

It’s also important to remember these side effects are temporary. Most last no more than a couple of days and patients recover without any problems.

Rare but serious side effects are why health authorities continue to closely monitor vaccines once they’ve been approved for use.

Severe allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines are “exceedingly rare” according to health authorities in the US, but you should report any unusual or adverse reactions to your doctor.

Is there a danger of long-term effects after this vaccine?

So far, no long-term adverse effects have been reported in people who participated in clinical trials (who were immunised several months ago), but researchers will continue to keep a close eye on them.

Similarly, regulators like the TGA will oversee the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the community for several years after they have been approved.

Because the approvals of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are on a provisional basis, the companies are required to keep providing information to the TGA on longer term efficacy and safety from ongoing clinical trials and post-market assessment.

I have an allergy

A blue, green, red and white graphic of an epipen going into an arm.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

A blue, green, red and white graphic of an epipen going into an arm.

If I have allergies, should I be concerned about the vaccine?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has published clinical advice on the use of COVID-19 vaccines.

They say people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the COVID vaccines should seek expert advice, as should anyone who has an allergic reaction after the first dose of COVID vaccine.

And if you have a history of anaphylaxis to any antigen (including food, insect stings, medicines) or if you have an adrenaline autoinjector (such as an EpiPen), you should let medical professionals know, and be monitored for 30 minutes after your vaccine.

What if I have an egg allergy?

Neither the Pfizer nor AstraZeneca vaccines contain egg protein.

Is there anything in the vaccines I may be allergic to?

The Pfizer vaccine contains polyethylene glycol, so anyone with a confirmed or possible history of PEG allergy needs to get expert advice before being vaccinated.

AstraZeneca contains an additive called Polysorbate 80 (which is also used in flu jabs), so have a chat with your doctor if you have previously had a reaction to it.

I have an existing condition

Neither vaccine in Australia has been assessed in immunocompromised individuals.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

Neither vaccine in Australia has been assessed in immunocompromised individuals.

I am immunocompromised. Should I get the vaccine?

Yes. The Australian government recommends people who are immunocompromised have the COVID-19 vaccine because of their increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

However, before you get your jab, you should talk to your GP. Because neither the AstraZeneca vaccine, nor the Pfizer jab, have been assessed in immunocompromised individuals. There is still limited data about how the vaccines work in these groups.

People who are in this group are also being advised to keep taking preventative measures — such as wearing a mask — after vaccination.

I have cancer. Is it safe to be vaccinated?

Again, talk to your doctor because information regarding COVID-19 vaccines for people with cancer is currently limited and it’s important to weigh up the risks and benefits of your personal circumstances.

People with compromised immune systems may also have higher rates of severe COVID-19 infection, so it may be in the best interest of some people in this group to get vaccinated.

However, the American Cancer Society’s main concern about getting the vaccine is not whether it’s safe for people with cancer, but about how effective it will be, because treatments like chemotherapy can affect the immune system.

I have an organ transplant. Is it safe for me to get vaccinated?

Yes, but it’s important to weigh up the risks and potential benefits of being vaccinated, because we don’t know yet how well COVID vaccines stimulate an immune response and protect transplant recipients.

However, people who are organ transplant recipients may be at increased risk for COVID-19 because they are immunosuppressed and have more contact with hospitals.

It’s best to chat with your doctor about your personal circumstances.

I have a bleeding disorder, should I be vaccinated?

It’s best that you talk to your doctor if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medication, and they can help determine if it’s safe, along with the best timing for your vaccination.

I have HIV, should I be vaccinated?

Yes. The vaccine is also recommended for people with HIV.

I have two or more diseases, should I get vaccinated?

Yes, most likely, but talk to your specialist first.

In phase three of its clinical trials, the Pfizer jab was tested on people with existing comorbidities, and the vaccine was shown to both work and be safe.

However, there’s limited data available about the efficacy and safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine for individuals with significant comorbidities.

I am 65+

For most people in this age group, the potential benefits of vaccination probably outweigh any potential risk from the vaccine itself.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

For most people in this age group, the potential benefits of vaccination probably outweigh any potential risk from the vaccine itself.

I am 65+ years old, should I get the vaccine?

Pfizer had people 65 and older in its clinical trials, and results showed the vaccine worked and was safe for this group.

But there’s still limited data available about how the AstraZeneca vaccine works in people 65 and older.

For most people in this age group, the potential benefits of vaccination probably outweigh any potential risk from the vaccine itself, because COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for older people.

But the TGA recommends the immunisation of elderly patients be judged on a “case-by-case basis” with the AstraZeneca vaccine. If in doubt, chat to your doctor.

I am 85+ years old, should I get the vaccine?

The data for use of coronavirus vaccines in people 85 and older is limited.

But we know coronavirus can be very dangerous for elderly people, so the benefits of being vaccinated most likely outweigh the risks.

However, because even mild reactions (such as nausea, a side effect of the vaccines) can have a big impact on the frail elderly, it is important to weigh up the benefits and risks with your doctor.

Again, the TGA recommends the immunisation of elderly patients be judged on a “case-by-case basis”.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Speak with your doctor about your personal circumstances.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

Speak with your doctor about your personal circumstances.

Should I be vaccinated if I am pregnant?

You should talk to your doctor and weigh up the risks and benefits of your personal circumstances.

Vaccine trials are typically conducted in healthy adults first, and pregnant women have been largely excluded from COVID-19 vaccine studies so far.

If you live in a high-risk area or have a high risk of getting coronavirus because of your job, you may choose to be vaccinated while you are pregnant.

Should I be vaccinated if I am planning a pregnancy?

If you are planning to get pregnant, there is no reason to put off your vaccination.

But if you have one dose and then fall pregnant — you may choose to wait to have your second dose until after your pregnancy.

Should I be vaccinated if I am breastfeeding?

Again, it’s worth talking to your doctor about your own personal circumstances.

Although the COVID-19 vaccines have not been tested in breastfeeding women, the Commonwealth says it has no concerns about the safety of the Pfizer jab.

It’s not yet known if the vaccine can be passed from mother to child through breastmilk, but the federal health department doesn’t think it will.

And even if some of the vaccine was passed on, the baby’s stomach acid would destroy it.

The Australian government’s COVID-19 vaccination decision guide for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning pregnancy can be found here.

Children

The rollout for kids is currently part of phase three of Australia’s vaccine program.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

The rollout for kids is currently part of phase three of Australia’s vaccine program.

Can children get the COVID vaccine?

No. There are no currently registered or recommended vaccines for kids under 16.

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the TGA for people 16 and older, whereas the AstraZeneca shot has been approved for people 18 and older.

When will a vaccine be available for children?

Pfizer is now studying its vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15, and children between the ages of five and 12 are being recruited for further trials of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The rollout of coronavirus vaccines for kids is currently part of phase three of Australia’s vaccine program.

Vaccines and travel

Australians vaccinated overseas will still have to quarantine upon return in the near term.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

Australians vaccinated overseas will still have to quarantine upon return in the near term.

I’ve been vaccinated overseas — how do I prove it when I get into Australia?

Vaccines given overseas can only be reported to the Australian Immunisation Register by a recognised vaccination provider in Australia.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the government was “considering mechanisms for recognising an international digital immunisation certificate for COVID-19”.

Australians can already access their immunisation history statement through Medicare for proof of vaccination, both digitally and in hard copy, if they need to.

These vaccination certificates can be found online, and people can access them easily on their phones.

I’ve been vaccinated overseas — do I have to quarantine in Australia?

For now, yes, people entering Australia will require some form of quarantine in the near term, even if proof of vaccination is provided.

“A vaccination is not viewed as a panacea or a complete substitute for other public health interventions; it is viewed as supplementary to other measures,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said.

Some businesses, such as Qantas and other airlines, have flagged that they might only let people board international flights if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated.

After vaccination

A blue, green, red and white graphic of an arm with a bandaid.

(ABC: Edwina Seselja)

A blue, green, red and white graphic of an arm with a bandaid.

How long will the COVID vaccines remain effective? Will I need a booster?

It’s too early to tell.

So far, there’s a lot more research about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines — meaning how well a vaccine prevents someone from getting the virus — than about the ultimate lifespan of that protection.

Experts say we may have a clearer picture by mid-year.

Will I be exempt from any interstate border restrictions once I’ve been vaccinated?

Again, it’s too early to tell. But decisions about interstate border closures will remain decisions for the states and territories.

Will I get a certificate saying I have been vaccinated?

Australians can already access their immunisation history statement through Medicare for proof of vaccination, both digitally and in hard copy, if they need to.

So all your information will be available there after your vaccination.

If I have one vaccine now, can I get a different one later?

Right now, the government’s focus is on making sure every Australian who wants to be vaccinated gets two doses. So it’s best to get the vaccine you’re eligible for in the first rollout.

This article will be updated as the vaccines are rolled out in Australia. Ask us your questions here.

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