Australia’s COVID vaccination program has started. The federal government plans to vaccinate up to 20 million adults across the nation, in what health minister Greg Hunt calls “one of the largest logistical exercises in Australian history”.
Inoculations will take place at hospitals, aged care homes and thousands of pharmacies, clinics and GP offices nationwide. Between February and October, the federal government says every Australian will get the chance to get a jab. The phased rollout begins with the highest-risk groups, before slowly moving onto the general population from May.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved two vaccines for use in Australia, those from Pfizer and AstraZeneca – “both are safe and will provide protection against serious illness,” according to the federal health department.
But with such a large exercise, and several different vaccines as part of the rollout, inevitably there are many questions. We asked for reader questions on the vaccination program, and put the most common ones to the experts at the federal Department of Health.
You asked, The New Daily got the answers.
The New Daily: Will there be any circumstances in which a person gets a choice of which vaccine they get? Or will that be a decision for their doctor?
Department of Health spokesperson: Certain vaccines are not restricted to specific phases. Subject to assessment by the TGA, priority groups will have access to a vaccine as soon as doses are available. Those wishing to be vaccinated will have access to whichever vaccine is available at that time, and will not be offered a preference of manufacturer.
Q: Will people who get vaccinated be exempt from any general public health orders, like quarantine or border restrictions?
A: Decisions on whether Australians are allowed to travel to specific states and territories are matters for individual jurisdictions, based on their own public health advice.
Q: Will the vaccine be free, and who will be eligible for it? Will it be for all people currently in Australia, or only citizens and permanent residents?
A: The Government is extending free access to COVID-19 vaccines to everyone living in Australia.
This includes all visa-holders, including temporary visas, refugees, asylum seekers, temporary protection visa holders, those on bridging visas, those in detention centres and those with cancelled visas. Each of these subclasses are included and holders are eligible for vaccination.
Q: Has the TGA made any recommendations about people who should NOT be vaccinated – for instance, based on health conditions?
A: The TGA approved COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, are not currently registered or recommended for use in children. Clinical guidance on use of COVID-19 vaccine in Australia in 2021, including for considerations for special populations, is listed here.
Q: What advice is there specifically for older Australians?
A: The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in individuals aged 16 and over. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in individuals aged 18 and over.
In the TGA’s rigorous assessment of the two vaccines, there was no evidence that indicates they are not safe or effective for people over the age of 65.
The TGA recommends the decision to immunise a patient over 65 years of age should be decided on a case-by-case basis with consideration of age, co-morbidities and their environment taking into account the benefits of vaccination and potential risks. This is not due to concerns with safety or the ability of this vaccine to induce an immune response, but only due to an insufficient number of participants in clinical trials to conclusively determine the efficacy in this subgroup.
More information on COVID-19 vaccines that have received TGA provisional approval can be found here.
The experience and evidence from the rollout of both vaccines in the UK is that they have both been very effective among older people.
Q: What advice is there for pregnant women, or women trying for a baby?
A: The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) does not routinely recommend COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy. Consumers and their health professional can consider it if the potential benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks.
Advice for the Pfizer vaccine for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy is outlined here.
Q: Will children under age 18 be vaccinated?
A: The Australian Government continues to follow advice from the ATAGI on the priority groups for the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Individuals aged 16 and 17 years old will be able to access the Pfizer vaccine (approved for use in 16- and 17-year-olds) in line with their relevant cohort.
If clinical trials were to provide global information on the efficacy and safety in children, then it would proceed to children in phase 3.
Q: Has the TGA made any recommendations about COVID vaccinations and flu vaccinations?
A: Routine scheduling and giving of an influenza vaccine with a COVID-19 vaccine on the same day is not recommended. ATAGI recommends that people wait 14 days between a COVID-19 vaccine and influenza vaccine.
Q: How will people know or be told that it is their turn to receive a vaccine and that their Phase of the rollout has begun?
A: The Australian Government’s $31 million public information campaign will keep Australians fully informed and up to date about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines as they become available, including when, how and where to get the vaccination.
The way individuals will receive notification will depend on which phase they are eligible to receive a vaccination under. An eligibility checker is available through the Department of Health website to support clinicians and consumers understand if they are part of the priority cohort at that time.
The Australian Government will provide further information about how vaccines will be rolled out over the coming months.
Q: Will people need to make a special booking through a specific COVID portal, or can they just arrive at their doctor and request a jab?
A: From Phase 1b, expected to commence in late March 2021, all approved COVID-19 vaccination clinics – including GP, pharmacy or state and territory clinics – will be listed on Healthdirect’s National Health Services Directory, including contact details and their online booking services (if they have one available). If an individual requires help in locating a suitable clinic they can contact the National Coronavirus Hotline 1800 020 080 for support.
Q: Once vaccinated, how can people prove that they have been given a jab?
A: All COVID-19 immunisations will be logged on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR). The AIR Immunisation History Statement (IHS) displays all immunisations that an individual has had that are recorded on AIR. The IHS can be viewed and printed through Medicare Online via myGov or the Medicare Express Plus app. Medicare information including vaccinations recorded in the AIR can also be viewed through an individual’s My Health Record.
Healthcare providers can view their patient’s record of vaccination though AIR or My Health Record, and can print an IHS on behalf of their patient.
Q: Are there any short-term or minor side-effects people may expect after vaccination?
A: People may experience minor side effects following vaccination. Most side effects last no more than a couple of days and people will recover without any problems.
Common reactions to vaccination include:
- pain, redness and/or swelling where you received the needle
- mild fever
Serious reactions such as allergic reactions are extremely rare. They usually occur within 15 minutes of receiving a vaccine. After receiving the vaccine, people should wait this amount of time before they leave in case a reaction occurs.
The COVID-19 vaccine side effects symptom checker is available in case anyone has concerns about any symptoms after their vaccine.