Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered
Getting immunised will help protect you and those around you
There’s so much information out there about the COVID-19 vaccine – at times, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.
Some of the false information is spreading quickly and widely on social media. So with the help of nib Group Chief Medical Officer Dr Mellissa Naidoo, we’re debunking some of the biggest COVID-19 vaccine myths.
Most vaccines use a component of the coronavirus (usually the spike protein) to trigger an immune response in your body so that you start to produce immune cells and antibodies against the virus.
You may experience some minor side effects, such as a mild fever or fatigue as part of this immune response but it doesn’t mean you have developed the disease.
Find out more about how the COVID-19 vaccine works.
Any vaccine approved for use in Australia has to go through the normal rigorous safety checks of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Every vaccine is evaluated for its safety and effectiveness. The TGA reviews the raw data and results of all vaccine trials. Plus, every batch of vaccines to be used in Australia will be tested for quality here in Australia.
“It can be confusing to know which information sources are trustworthy, so it’s best to stick to official public health websites to ensure you are accessing the most reliable, verified and up to date information,” Dr Naidoo says.
“If members do have any concerns, we encourage them to talk these through with their GP or trusted health professional. They can help separate fact from fiction and provide further information specific to their circumstances.”
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has carefully considered the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK, where there have been extremely rare instances of people developing a very specific syndrome involving blood clots with low platelet counts after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Studies have suggested it may occur in approximately 4-6 people in every one million people in the 4-20 days after the first dose of vaccine. However, higher rates have been reported in Germany and some Scandinavian countries.
As a result, ATAGI has recommended the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults aged under 50 years.
This recommendation is based on the increasing risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in older adults – and hence a higher benefit from vaccination – and a potentially increased risk of blood clots following AstraZeneca vaccination among those aged under 50.
For more information, please visit the Department of Health.
In addition, everyone in Australia will be screened for potential allergies or problems before they are vaccinated, using a safety checklist. And you will also have to remain at the place of vaccination afterwards to be monitored for at least 15 minutes.
Mild side effects are common after any vaccine shot and it’s no different with COVID vaccines. Some common (but short-term) side effects of the vaccines are pain/swelling at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headache. These are signs the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system.
Initially, we will still need to continue with physical distancing, regular hand washing, and (in some situations) mask wearing.
Some of these control measures may be reduced once the vaccine program is fully rolled out.
If a person was infected with both the flu and COVID-19 it could be serious, so make sure to still get your annual flu vaccination.
Dr Naidoo says while the flu vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of getting the flu and associated complications.
“During this pandemic, you want to remain as fit and healthy as possible and vaccination is an important preventative tool,” she advises.
“In addition to getting vaccinated, adhering to simple and effective measures such as good hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing and isolating when unwell, is just as important to protect ourselves and our community from transmission of infectious disease.”
Just remember, there should be at least a 14-day gap between your flu jab and any of your COVID-19 shots.
The Pfizer vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine (also called mRNA). The mRNA from the vaccine doesn’t enter the nucleus of our cells – where our DNA is kept. The mRNA is expressed for a short time and then our cells degrade it, so there is no way that the vaccine can modify your DNA.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine – it uses a harmless, weakened animal virus to introduce the genetic code for the COVID-19 spike protein into our cells. The genetic code for the spike protein does not become part of our DNA.
It varies from person to person.
“There are severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and members who have had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated to help protect them against the possibility of re-infection,” says Dr Naidoo.
When it comes to new variants, previous infection may not provide any protection. That’s what is being seen in South Africa where people have been re-infected by a new variant that is now the dominant form of the virus there.
If you're one of the very small minority of Australians who have already had COVID-19, your natural immunity may not be enough to protect you from getting COVID-19 again.
As Dr Naidoo points out, “Vaccination is still beneficial even if you’ve had COVID-19, as the vaccine effectively tops up immunity and could protect you for longer against re-infection.”
To find out the latest on the COVID-19 vaccines and their rollout from the most reliable source, visit The Australian Government Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccines website. Here you can also sign up for updates on the progress of the rollout.
For more information about the vaccine, check out our article Your Australian COVID-19 vaccine questions answered.
Please note: The information throughout this article should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
Dr Mellissa Naidoo is Group Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for nib. She is a specialist in Medical Leadership and Healthcare Management, with over 18 years’ experience working as a doctor in clinical, medical education and health executive roles in public and private hospitals.
Mellissa is passionate about the future of health and the role clinical innovation and digital technology will play in access to care and better health outcomes for everyone. She is actively involved in training the next generation of medical leaders and an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of Queensland and Bond University Medical Schools.