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How to prepare for your COVID-19 vaccination

Get ready for your appointment to protect you against COVID-19

Health worker giving young man COVID-19 vaccination
Health worker giving young man COVID-19 vaccination

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is well underway, which is great news – the more of us are vaccinated, the safer everyone will be. But many people still have questions about the vaccine – how and where to get it, what to do to prepare and why we need two shots. The Check Up spoke to nib group medical advisor Dr Hamish Black to help you feel prepared for your first COVID-19 shot.

How to book a COVID-19 vaccination

The COVID-19 vaccine is completely free, regardless of your Medicare or visa status. Most of the population is now eligible, with everyone over 12 now able to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and you do not need a referral or prescription.

To book your COVID vaccine online, visit the Australian Government's eligibility checker. Once you’ve entered your details, you’ll be able to view a list of vaccination hubs and clinics where vaccination is available then book an appointment.

Once you’re booked in, be sure to keep your appointment (or call to cancel with plenty of
notice), as vaccine doses expire if they’re not used.

“Make sure you turn up!” says Hamish. “These vaccines are precious – people are waiting months for their jab and each appointment made determines how much of the vaccine each practice or vaccination hub is allocated. If you fail to turn up, the vaccine dose may go to waste.”

What should I do to prepare for my appointment?

In the lead-up to your first vaccination, make sure your Medicare details are up to date either by calling Medicare or logging into your online account through myGov – or enrol in
Medicare if you’re eligible but haven’t yet enrolled. If you’re not eligible for Medicare, get an Individual Health Identifier through myGov .

Gather records of existing medical conditions and names of medications you take regularly to take to your appointment, and if you’re booking on behalf of a dependent, download and fill out a COVID-19 vaccination consent form ahead of time.

On vaccination day, “it’s a good idea to eat beforehand as the process takes at least an hour with waiting around afterward to make sure there is no allergic reaction,” Hamish advises.

Be sure to arrive a little ahead of your appointment – while it’s not a requirement, getting there 15 minutes early ensures you’re not rushing, as well as allowing time to ask questions (if needed) of the person administering the vaccine. If you’re running late, let the clinic or vaccine hub know.

“It’s also a good idea not to bring the kids unless you are breastfeeding,” says Hamish.

You’ll need to take a few things with you.

“Bring your Medicare card – or, even better, set up your Medicare online account through myGov,” advises Hamish. “Also bring a face mask and photo ID.”

You may also need:

  • Employee ID (if you are getting a vaccine because of your occupation)

  • Information about any existing medical conditions, allergies, bleeding disorders or immunocompromised status

  • Any medications you’re taking

  • Details of any previous COVID-19 vaccine you’ve received

  • Information on any reactions to vaccines you’ve had previously

  • If you’re not seeing your regular GP for your vaccination, have their details with you, too.

Young woman arriving at clinic for COVID-19 vaccination

What if I’m not well on the day of my vaccine appointment?

If you have any potential COVID-19 symptoms – such as fever, cough or a runny nose – on the day of your appointment, call the vaccination hub or clinic staff, who can advise whether you should reschedule. Please don’t simply turn up.

“It is rare that you will be considered too unwell for the vaccine dose,” says Hamish, though he adds that a “high fever would be a reason not to vaccinate”.

You should also call to reschedule your appointment if you are awaiting COVID-19 test results, have tested positive for the virus and are currently isolating, are in quarantine, or are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.

What can I expect from my vaccination appointment?

“There will often be a number of people receiving their dose at the same time so you may be waiting a few minutes for your group to be vaccinated,” says Hamish. “The injection is into the shoulder muscle and it’s best to ask it be in your non-dominant arm.”

This is because the most common reaction is local muscle ache, like when you have a flu vaccination, he explains.

“There can also be some local redness, heat and even bruising.”

You will be asked to stay at least 15 minutes after your vaccination to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction.

How important is it to keep the second appointment? 

The second dose of your COVID-19 vaccine is vital for maximum protection against the virus.

“The immune response is significantly less after only having one injection,” says Hamish. “If you miss your second injection, the length to which you will have immunity will be far less. There is little point in having one injection if you’re not prepared to have the second one.”

The second dose of your COVID-19 vaccine is vital for maximum protection against the virus

All of the vaccinations currently available in Australia – Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna – require two doses for the best immunity. The number and timing of the doses differ:

  • The ideal time between doses for AstraZeneca is 12 weeks. However, 4 to 8 weeks is preferred in the case of an outbreak

  • The ideal time between doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 3 to 6 weeks

  • The ideal time between doses of the Moderna vaccine is 4 to 6 weeks.

The appointment for your second dose should be given to you when you have your first injection, Hamish says. However, if for some reason you miss your second appointment, book in to get the second injection as soon as possible.

How do I download my COVID vaccination certificate?

Your COVID-19 vaccination certificate is automatically generated and uploaded to your immunisation history statement once you’ve had your second shot. You can access it through your Medicare online account, the Express Plus Medicare app, the Australian Immunisation Register or via your My Health record (if you don’t have a Medicare card).

Once you have your COVID-19 digital vaccination certificate, you can also add it to your Apple Wallet or Google Pay on your phone, making it easily accessible on your device. This may come in handy as state governments and businesses begin to implement policies where
fully vaccinated people have more freedoms and access, and you may need your COVID-19 vaccine certificate as proof.

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.