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The COVID-19 vaccine – what you need to know

Care Services Health
24 February 2021

Since the world’s first case of COVID-19 was reported in December 2019 peoples’ lives everywhere have changed in unimaginable ways.

The first case of COVID-19 was detected in Australia on 25 January 2020. By 27 February Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national pandemic. Not long after it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 12 March.

Since then people globally have adjusted to a new way of living to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Travel restrictions, mask wearing, fastidious hand washing, social distancing and long bouts of strict lock-downs along with a slew of other ever-changing public health directions are par for the course living in a ‘COVID world’.

COVID-19 is a serious disease. It is more contagious and more deadly than the flu. Of the more than 100 million people it has infected, almost 2.5 million have died and many survivors have been left with long-term health impacts.

On Monday 22 February 2021 the Australian Government started its rollout of the COVID vaccination program, beginning with frontline workers and residential aged care centre residents. Here’s what you need to know about the jab and how it can help protect you, your loved ones and the community from this terrible, life-threatening disease. 

Is the COVID vaccine safe?

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccines have been deemed safe following thorough testing before being approved for use in Australia by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration. The vaccination program aims to reduce the risk of COVID spreading in the community and to reach herd immunity.

WHO explains herd immunity is “the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.”  WHO supports achieving herd immunity through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through the population causing unnecessary cases and deaths.

Herd immunity is achieved through vaccination when a determined number of people in a community are vaccinated against a disease. This makes it harder for the disease to circulate through the community or ‘herd’ as most people it encounters have been vaccinated and are immune. This then reduces the risk for those who are unable to be vaccinated by reducing their risk of exposure to the disease.

Not everyone can be vaccinated for a range of reasons including people with underlying health conditions that weaken their immune systems (such as cancer or HIV) or people with severe allergies to vaccine components. This is why it is important that as many people as possible who can get the vaccine do actually get it. Doing so will not only protect themselves but also those living in our communities who cannot have the vaccine. In many cases those who can’t have the vaccine are among the most vulnerable to the disease.

Misinformation threatens herd immunity

Experts fear that misinformation about COVID and the vaccine poses the greatest threat to vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity. You may have read a number of incorrect claims made, particularly online, with some that are quite imaginative and false. Claims that have not been substantiated with scientific evidence are simply unhelpful. The overwhelming scientific evidence points to the COVID vaccine being the best path to achieving herd immunity and protecting ourselves, our loved ones and the community from a terrible, life-threatening illness.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) wrote in a statement in January about the confusion around the 62% or 95% effectiveness of the COVID vaccines. AAS clarifies that “these figures represent the AstraZeneca and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines’ respective effectiveness rates at protecting an infected person from developing mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. Either vaccine is amply effective to prevent severe disease.”

AAS also explains that Australia’s current vaccination strategy is aimed at reducing the severity of disease – to reduce the number of exposed individuals to getting very sick or dying.

Other busted myths about the COVID vaccine

  • MYTH: The COVID vaccine can infect me with COVID
  • Fact: The vaccine won’t give you COVID. It doesn’t contain live virus. None of the vaccines contain live virus or any variation of COVID, so it would be impossible to get COVID from the vaccine.
  • MYTH: Getting the COVID vaccine means I can stop taking COVID safe precautions
  • Fact: People who get the COVID vaccination still need to practice social distancing and follow all recommended COVID safe precautions. The vaccines don’t stop the virus from entering your body, they prevent you from developing moderate to severe COVID. It’s not clear yet if people who have been vaccinated for COVID can still carry and transmit the disease.
  • MYTH: The side effects of the COVID vaccine are dangerous
  • Fact: The COVID vaccines can have side effects, these are normal signs that the vaccination is working to stimulate your immune system.

How will it be delivered?

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine is the first to be made available in Australia and the first 142,000 doses are being administered to frontline workers and residential aged care residents from 22 February. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will also soon be available.

Both vaccines will be administered in two doses, 21 plus days apart. It is delivered as an injection to the arm and may result in some side effects, which are normal signs that the vaccination is working and your body is building protection. This might include; fever, chills, tiredness, headache or pain and redness at the injection site.

Australia has secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. These are being manufactured offshore and are currently being made available. The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be manufactured by Australian-headquartered multinational biopharmaceutical company CSL in partnership with the developer, international pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Australia has secured 53.8 million doses of this vaccine – 3.8 million will be delivered in early 2021. The remaining 50 million doses will be manufactured in Australia in monthly batches by CSL.

When can I get the COVID vaccine?

The delivery schedule is being developed and administered by the government and is not yet finalised but those regarded as more vulnerable to the virus than others will be first to get vaccinated in phase 1a:

  1. Residential aged care and disability workers
  2. Residential aged care and disability residents
  3. Quarantine and border workers
  4. Emergency front line health workers

Aged care centre employees and residents will receive the vaccination in their aged care centre. It will be delivered by government appointed health professionals.

The next phase (1b) will prioritise:

  • In home aged care employees
  • Older Australians aged 70 and over
  • Other health care workers
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55
  • Younger adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability
  • Defence, police, fire, and emergency services workers

For more information about the vaccine and the schedule go to www.health.gov.au

Consent required

It is strongly encouraged that everyone, particularly older Australians and those caring for older Australians understand the advantages of the vaccine and to consider getting vaccinated when their turn comes.

The vaccine is voluntary and informed consent is required before it can be given. Certain medical conditions must be declared that may exclude some people. You may like to familiarise yourself with the government’s consent form available here. When deciding whether to get vaccinated always seek information and advice from your GP or health professional.

For more information about the COVID vaccination program visit the COVID-19 vaccines page on the Australian Government Department of Health website: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, their safety, quality and effectiveness visit the COVID-19 vaccines page on the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration website: https://www.tga.gov.au/covid-19-vaccines 

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