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COVID Vaccine


COVID Vaccine Updates


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Which COVID-19 vaccines will be used in Australia in 2021?

  • The Australian Government COVID-19 vaccination program commenced on 22 February using Comirnaty (also called BNT162b2), developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. This mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was provisionally approved for use in Australia in January 2021.
  • The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has also given provisional approval to the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, called COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. This is a viral vector vaccine, and it is likely to be rolled out from early March 2021. 
  • The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has provided clinical guidance on the use of both these vaccines. 
  • The government has also made commitments to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Who will get a COVID-19 vaccine first and how is this decided?

  • It will take time for enough vaccine doses to be manufactured so that the entire population in Australia can be vaccinated. Initially, the vaccine will be offered using a ‘priority framework‘ that outlines how to allocate the initially limited available doses. 
  • The Australian Government, informed by ATAGI and other medical expert groups, has published detailed information outlining priority populations on the basis of a number of factors, including where COVID-19 infections are occurring, the risk of infection and severe disease, and the characteristics of the available vaccines. 
  • Similar priority lists have been developed around the world, including by the World Health Organization, the United Kingdom Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • As quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers and aged care and disability care staff workers are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and also may spread the virus to vulnerable patients and the elderly, they have been identified as groups to be offered the vaccine first, along with aged care and disability residents. 
  • Children are not an initial priority group for COVID-19 vaccination because of lesser disease severity in children than in older people.

Where will people be able to access the vaccine, and will it be free?

  • COVID-19 vaccines are free for everyone in Australia, as per the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. 
  • The Australian Government has published information on the vaccination sites, noting some of this is still to be finalised.
  • As there will be limited initial supplies of the vaccine, priority groups will be offered the Pfizer vaccine first via hubs, usually in urban and rural locations, around Australia, with vaccination teams also going out to aged and disability care facilities.
  • As the roll out continues, the Astra Zeneca vaccine will become available at other locations including GP respiratory clinics, General Practices (that meet specific requirements), Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, state-run vaccination clinics, and eventually at some workplace vaccination sites and community pharmacies that meet specific requirements. 

Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory?

  • The Australian Government has stated that COVID-19 vaccination “is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate”. If people choose not to have a COVID-19 vaccine, this will not affect their family’s eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part A or childcare fee assistance which only includes National Immunisation Program vaccines for those aged <20 years.
  • It is possible that in future, vaccination against COVID-19 may become a requirement for travel to certain destinations or for people working in certain high-risk workplaces. If this becomes the case, it is anticipated there will be exemptions in place for people who are unable to be vaccinated.

Why are multi-dose vials being used to store COVID-19 vaccines?

  • Multi-dose vials contain more than one dose of a vaccine in a single glass vial. They usually include 5–20 doses per vial, and each dose is then carefully extracted and given via individual syringes for injection. Use of multi-dose vials is the most efficient way to distribute a new vaccine to the maximum number of people and is being used world-wide for all COVID-19 vaccines. 
  • Packaging vaccine doses multi-dose vials is safe and is supported by numerous quality controls and good handling practices. 
  • Multi-dose vials are routinely used in Australia for the tuberculosis (BCG) vaccine and were used for the 2009 pandemic influenza vaccine. Immunisation providers are trained in and follow guidelines specifically on the use of multi-dose vials.

Why should I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • COVID-19 is a disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. It can cause severe lung and generalised disease and has caused the deaths of over 2 million people worldwide since January 2020.
  • Although the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk, anyone can get severe disease and die of COVID-19. In some people, COVID-19 may cause long-term symptoms of fatigue and breathlessness. The virus is also easily spread by people with few or no symptoms; even if you may not become unwell with COVID-19, others you may pass on the virus to can. 
  • By vaccinating, you are protecting yourself and others from severe COVID-19. It is also likely that once a large amount of people are vaccinated, this will decrease the spread of COVID-19 in our community. 

Can I choose which COVID-19 vaccine I get?

  • You will not be able to choose which COVID-19 vaccine you are offered. 
  • Initial supply of COVID-19 vaccines will be limited, and whichever vaccine is available will be first offered to people with the highest risk of getting, spreading or having severe illness from COVID-19 and then more broadly to the rest of the adult community. 

What is COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca and how does it work?

  • COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is a COVID-19 vaccine developed by The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. It contains a harmless common cold ‘carrier’ virus (an adenovirus), into which the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein has been inserted. The spike protein is an important part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and helps the virus enter cells. 
  • After vaccination, the adenovirus carrier brings this piece of genetic code into your cells, and your cells then read it to produce copies of the spike protein. Your immune system then detects these spike proteins and learns how to recognise and fight against COVID-19. 
  • The adenovirus has been modified so that it cannot replicate once it is inside cells. This means that it cannot spread to other cells and cause infection. For this reason, COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is not considered a ‘live vaccine’. 

How many doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be required and what will be the schedule?

  • The number and timing of doses will vary between different COVID-19 vaccines and you should follow the guidance of your immunisation provider. 
  • If you are having Comirnaty (Pfizer), you will need to have two doses, around 3 weeks apart. 
  • The AstraZeneca/University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine also requires two doses, given around 12 weeks apart (or as short as 4 weeks apart, if necessary). 
  • Refer to ATAGI clinical guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine in Australia in 2021 for more details on dose timing.

Can COVID-19 vaccines be co-administered with other vaccines (eg, influenza vaccine)?

  • Routine administration of a COVID-19 vaccine on the same day as another vaccine, including an inactivated influenza vaccine, is not recommended. Currently the preferred minimum interval between receipt of COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine is 14 days. 
  • This advice may change as further information becomes available.
  • For more information, refer to https://www.health.gov.au.

How effective are COVID-19 vaccines?

  • Several vaccine developers have made preliminary announcements about the efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccine in phase 3 clinical trials, and some have published early (interim) results. 
  • These results are very promising, and indicate that each of these vaccines is able to prevent COVID-19 disease to a statistically significant degree. 
  • Comirnaty (made by Pfizer) is about 95% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on clinical trials and information from regulators. 
  • COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca/University of Oxford is about 62-70% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on clinical trials and information from regulators. 
  • Initial clinical trial data for both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine suggest very high protection (possibly close to 100%) against severe COVID-19. More data on this will come over time.
  • The Novavax vaccine is about 89% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on a press release from the company.
  • At this stage it is unclear how long immunity from COVID-19 vaccines will last and how effectively they will decrease transmission (the spread of disease between people)

Will the COVID-19 vaccines be effective on new variants of the virus?

  • Certain viruses, including the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, naturally mutate over time. Often these mutations don’t impact on how viruses affect us. However, some recent variants of SARS-CoV-2 have meant that those strains are more easily spread.
  • Current evidence from clinical trials indicates that the antibodies induced from COVID-19 vaccines are likely to provide protection to a variety of mutations and minor changes. However, in some cases there may be an impact on how antibody can ‘neutralise’ the virus and this may mean that the effectiveness of the vaccines against this particular strain could be affected. This information is still emerging and is being closely monitored. 
  • In the same way that the influenza vaccine changes each season, the technology used to create the COVID-19 vaccines may be able to be adapted to changes in variants. 

Can different COVID-19 vaccines be used interchangeably?

  • It is generally not recommended to use COVID-19 vaccines interchangeably, since we do not yet know whether this is effective.
  • You should ideally have two doses of the same COVID-19 vaccine to complete your course.
  • However, this advice may change over time as more data emerges. For example, a clinical trial of vaccination with alternating doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines is being conducted in the United Kingdom.

Should I wait for a better COVID-19 vaccine?

  • The COVID-19 vaccines we will have in Australia have already been shown to be safe and effective, and it is strongly recommended to get vaccinated as soon as you are offered a vaccine. 
  • Having a COVID-19 vaccine now offers you and others protection against the disease and is the fastest way to reducing our need for strict COVID-19 related measures. 
  • Having one course of COVID-19 vaccination now will not mean you will not be eligible to have another COVID-19 vaccine in future – it is possible that additional or booster doses of vaccine are needed in the future. More data will come on this over time. 

Do I need the vaccine if I have already had COVID-19 in the past?

  • It is important that the COVID-19 vaccine is available to the entire population, even people with a past history of COVID-19. 
  • The vaccine clinical trials included some previously infected people (who had a blood test showing past infection). These people responded to the vaccine well. They had a good immune response and had similar mild and expected side effects to people who weren’t previously infected.
  • If you have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should talk to your healthcare provider about the best time to have a COVID-19 vaccination. You may be advised to wait until around 6 months after you have recovered from COVID-19 to have your vaccine. 

What happens if I get COVID-19 between the first and second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Your body will develop an immune response within 2–3 weeks after the first dose and will be partially protected. However, all people need a second dose to achieve maximum and longer lasting protection. 
  • Some people who have just had one dose of the vaccine may develop COVID-19 disease. If you are infected and have only had one dose of vaccine, you will still be able to have the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but you may be advised to delay the second dose for around 6 months after you have recovered from COVID-19.
  • Some people may also develop COVID-19 disease after two doses; however, it is expected symptoms will not be severe. Further evidence is awaited that will provide more insight on this. 

Can children have a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Children under 16 years of age cannot have Comirnaty, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Children and adolescents under 18 years of age cannot have the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • This is because we don’t have any clinical trial results yet to confirm that the vaccines are effective and safe in these age groups. Clinical trials in children are planned or underway, and in the future children may be able to receive both of these vaccines.

Can I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I am immunocompromised?

  • Being immunocompromised means you have a weakened immune system, either from an underlying medical condition or from medical treatment that weakens your immune system. 
  • If you are immunocompromised, you are strongly recommended to receive either of the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Australia – Comirnaty (Pfizer) or COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. The ATAGI clinical guidance on COVID-19 Vaccine in Australia in 2021 provides a list of medical conditions associated with increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
  • Both of these vaccines are considered to be safe in immunocompromised people. However, they may be less effective in immunocompromised people, because the vaccines rely on your immune system to build a response. This means that it’s important to continue other protective measures against COVID-19, even if you are vaccinated. 

Can I have a COVID-19 vaccine if I have allergies?

  • Almost all people with allergies can have a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • The only exception is if you have had anaphylaxis (a type of severe allergic reaction) to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or to one of its ingredients.
  • If you have had anaphylaxis to another substance (including foods, drugs or insect stings), or if you have been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector (Epipen), you may be advised to stay for 30 minutes after vaccination with a COVID-19 vaccine.

If I have an allergic reaction after a COVID-19 vaccine or to one of its ingredients, can I still have the second dose?

  • If you have had anaphylaxis (a type of severe allergic reaction) to a previous dose of a COVID-19, or to one of its ingredients, you should not have that vaccine again. Your healthcare provider can help to determine whether it will be safe for you to have an alternative COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • If you had a suspected allergic reaction which was not anaphylaxis after a COVID-19 vaccine, you may still be able to have the second dose of the vaccine, but in some cases precautions are needed such as a longer period of observation after vaccination or referral for allergy testing. 
  • You can find out more about the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines in the Consumer Medicine Information, which is available on the TGA website.

Can you get COVID-19 from a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • You cannot get COVID-19 from a COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • To get COVID-19, a live virus that can multiply in your body has to infect you. No vaccine supplied currently in the world contains live coronavirus. 
  • The vaccines used in Australia and elsewhere contain a genetic material that codes for the spike protein (eg, Pfizer and AstraZeneca), the spike protein itself (eg, Novavax) or an inactivated (or killed) form of the virus (in vaccines manufactured in China). 

What are the likely side effects from COVID-19 vaccines?

  • All vaccines can cause side effects. Usually these are mild. Clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines have reported side effects such as pain at the injection site, fever or muscle aches starting on the day or day after vaccination.  
  • Comirnaty (Pfizer) is generally well tolerated and most side effects are mild and short-lived. The most common side effects include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. These side effects were temporary and went away without treatment in 1-2 days.

What should I do if I have side effects after a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Your immunisation provider will tell you about the common symptoms you may experience after your COVID-19 vaccine. These may include pain, redness or swelling at the site of your injection. It may also include some general side effects such as tiredness, headache or fever. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with side effects like pain, headache or fever. 
  • You should seek urgent medical assistance (e.g. by calling 000) if you think you are having a severe allergic reaction, such as if you are experiencing difficulty breathing, hives, lip swelling or feeling faint.
  • You should seek advice from your usual healthcare provider (e.g. GP) if you have any side effects that you are concerned about, or if your side effects have not gone away after a few days.
  • You can report potential side effects after vaccination to your state or territory health authority, or directly to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Your healthcare provider can make the report for you if you wish. This will help the TGA collect information about adverse effects that occur after COVID-19 vaccination and detect any possible unexpected safety signals.

Are shortcuts being taken in vaccine safety assessment?

  • No. Although COVID-19 vaccine trials have been set up much more quickly than would have previously been possible, this does not mean that safety assessment has been compromised.
  • In fact most of the vaccines being developed have now included tens of thousands of people in their trials, totaling nearly one quarter of a million people being involved in trials altogether. This is actually providing a larger amount of data than for many other vaccines routinely used.
  • Each country has its own processes for assessing and monitoring the safety of vaccines. In Australia, any COVID-19 vaccine must meet the same high standards of the TGA as any other vaccine. Vaccine safety remains the TGA’s top priority. COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritised, and more resources will be allocated to their assessment.

How are COVID-19 vaccines being tested?

  • Clinical trials involve testing the vaccine in volunteers, and are conducted in phases:
  • Phase 1 clinical trials usually include a few dozen healthy adult volunteers and focus primarily on assessing safety, and also on demonstrating that the vaccine induces an immune response
  • Phase 2 clinical trials have hundreds of volunteers, and can include groups for whom the new vaccine is intended, for example, older adults, children or people with pre-existing medical conditions. These trials aim to show the vaccine induces an immune response and confirm that it is safe with acceptable side effects.
  • Phase 3 clinical trials include many thousands of participants and aim to show that a vaccine has efficacy (i.e. it is effective) in preventing people from getting the disease – in this case COVID-19. Phase 3 trials also thoroughly assess the vaccine for safety and side effects. In a phase 3 trial, researchers usually compare vaccinated people with people who received a placebo (like a salt water injection). They compare the rate of disease, disease severity and reported side effects between the two groups.
  • For COVID-19 vaccines, some of these phases have been combined. For example, in phase 1/2 trials, results are analysed after the first few dozen volunteers are studied, then the trial proceeds in hundreds more. Also, some phase 3 studies have started once preliminary data from phase 1/2 trials are available. Having these ‘overlapping’ time frames has helped develop COVID-19 vaccines quickly and help make them available earlier to save lives.