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Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

Getting immunised will help protect you and those around you

A young woman wearing a mask as she gets the COVID-19 vaccine
A young woman wearing a mask as she gets the COVID-19 vaccine

For the latest information about COVID-19 vaccines in Australia, please visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.

We need vaccines to help bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control and get us back to a new normal, but you might have some questions about it.

With vaccination being rolled out in Australia, we sat down with nib Group Chief Medical Officer Dr Mellissa Naidoo to answer some of the most common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s natural to worry whether brand new medicines are safe and effective, but Australia has strict regulatory processes to ensure this. Testing in tens of thousands of people in large trials has shown the vaccines to be safe and effective,” says Dr Naidoo.

Australians can also take assurance from the fact that so far, more than 500 million people have been safely immunised around the world, and the vaccines have been approved for use by the TGA.

“Australia has done well in managing the spread of COVID-19, but as repeated outbreaks have shown, this is a highly infectious disease with significant health risks. Getting immunised will help protect you and those around you,” says Dr Naidoo.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have both been approved for use in Australia.

Both vaccines have been trialled in several countries by tens of thousands of people and were shown to be effective at protecting people from COVID-19 after two doses. In fact, the protection against severe disease was an astounding 100%. That means these vaccines effectively turn COVID-19 into the equivalent of the common cold or mild flu.

Related: The 7 biggest Australian COVID-19 vaccine myths

An elderly woman looking at her vaccination band-aid

Vaccination is voluntary, but the Government is encouraging us to all do our bit and get vaccinated, because it will be the fastest route to opening up our domestic and international borders.

You can find out more information about the Australian Government COVID-19 vaccination program rollout here.

If you have further questions about the vaccines, you can ring the Government’s national coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine helpline on 1800 020 080.

The second dose ensures that a person makes more antibodies and also that they get longer-term protection. Without the second dose, a person won’t have the immune memory required to quickly fire up an effective antibody response against a future infection of COVID-19.

When it is their turn to receive the vaccine, people who aren’t eligible for Medicare (such as temporary visa holders) will be encouraged to go to a GP-led respiratory clinic or state vaccination clinic to ensure they are not charged for the vaccine.

To receive the vaccine, you will need to provide proof of eligibility, confirm you agree to be vaccinated and have a clinical screening.

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Serious side effects such as severe allergic reactions are very uncommon, and they normally occur within the first 20 minutes of vaccination. For this reason, everyone will be asked to wait at their place of vaccination for at least 15 minutes after the shot.

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. As a result, ATAGI has recommended the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults aged under 60 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 60.

For more information, please visit the Department of Health.

“While there have been some reports of allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine overseas, severe allergic reactions are rare and estimated to occur in only about 11 cases per million,” says Dr Naidoo.

“If you have a history of allergies or are concerned about this risk, you should discuss this with your doctor to help ensure your health and safety during vaccination,” she recommends.

RANZCOG and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommend that pregnant women are offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy. This is because the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby.

Global data from large numbers of pregnant women have not identified any significant safety concerns with COVID-19 vaccines given at any stage of pregnancy. In fact, there is evidence of antibody in cord blood and breastmilk, which may offer protection to infants through passive immunity.

We encourage pregnant women to discuss the decision in relation to timing of vaccination with a health professional. Women who are trying to become pregnant do not need to delay vaccination or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination.

If the vaccines are recommended more widely for children, the under-18s will be immunised in Phase 3.

According to Dr Naidoo, “Getting a flu jab has become even more important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of getting the flu and associated complications and keep you fit and healthy.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way you can protect yourself and the people around you, including those with chronic diseases or those more vulnerable to serious illness,” she added. “However, regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated, it is important we all continue to also practise physical distancing, good hand hygiene and isolate when unwell to protect our community”.

There should be at least a seven day gap between having a flu jab and having any dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It doesn’t matter whether you get your flu jab before your COVID-19 jabs or vice versa. Your doctor can help ensure that the timing of flu and COVID-19 vaccination is within the recommendations.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2023 flu vaccine

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines and the rollout plan in Australia, please visit the Australian Government Department of Health website or Healthdirect.

Please note: The information throughout this article should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.