News Coronavirus COVID vaccine side effects: What we know so far
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COVID vaccine side effects: What we know so far

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Australia is just weeks away from starting its COVID-19 vaccination program, and as the nation readies for the next step to defeating the virus, we can look to other countries to find out what to expect.

The vaccine has already begun to be administered in the Northern Hemisphere – in some countries, the rollout is so far along that many people have received both shots and are now considered vaccinated.

Abroad and in Australia, there’s been some hesitancy about the vaccine – is it safe? Is it effective? And, what are the side effects?

The answers to the first two questions are yes and yes – all medication in Australia must pass through the stringent Therapeutic Goods Administration before it’s made available for use.

Back to side effects.

Because all of the COVID-19 vaccines in development require two doses, 21 days apart, people have reported varying degrees of side effects from person to person, and from dose to dose.

Here’s what we know so far

Pfizer-BioNTech

This is the first vaccine that will hit Australians’ arms. We’ve ordered 10 million doses (but there are questions over how many doses will survive logistics to be delivered).

It’s already in full swing in the US, and we are starting to hear reports of the kind of side effects people are experiencing.

The official health advice from the Australian health department is that it’s normal to feel some pain in your arm where you received the injection, along with some redness and swelling. A mild fever is also to be expected.

However, some Americans are reporting side effects that are so apparent, they warrant paracetamol.

Registered Nurse in Houston, Texas, Ellena Steward-Scott this week told a Texas news outlet the arm soreness was more extreme than what she’s felt after a flu shot.

Renee Sanchez-Leal, who’s helping to administer the vaccine, also told KHOU 11 the side effects were more pronounced after the second shot.

“[The second dose] one really hit me and it hit me hard. I felt like I was getting all of the symptoms,” Ms Sanchez-Leal said, who listed chills, aches and fever as her side effects.

But, she said, it was nothing a paracetamol couldn’t fix.

“I would rather feel cruddy for 24 hours than experience the full force of the COVID symptoms,” she continued.

“Having lost a family member and really good friends to this disease, I wanted to make sure I could protect myself and my family.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine generated much excitement when first trialled in the UK.

Oxford-AstraZeneca

There’s ongoing debate around this vaccine, especially in its use in those aged 65 and over. This week, our TGA gave it the all-clear – there’s no risk for the elderly, they said.

Australia has some 53.8 million doses of this vaccine ordered, but it hasn’t yet passed the TGA’s approvals process. It’s only just reached approval in the EU, where it will be administered over coming weeks.

While Germany is making headlines for considering pausing its rollout for the older cohort, research so far hasn’t indicated it’s unsafe for these people – in fact, they report fewer side effects than younger people.

Early indications of side effects mirror that of Pfizer – soreness at the injection site, tiredness and headaches. There’s also ‘extremely rare’ cases of nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Two million doses of this vaccine are expected to be produced by the Melbourne-based CSL by the end of March.