Answering your patient’s questions about receiving the COVID-19 vaccines

As the vaccine program fast approaches, we have some of the main questions that your patients could ask and the answers, so that you and other staff can prepare for upcoming appointments.

Is it safe to receive the vaccine?

The trials so far in tens of thousands of people across the world show that the short term safety profiles are excellent.  This has been confirmed in the tens of millions who have already received the vaccine worldwide and by our Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) who will also actively monitor safety during and after the roll out.

This video describes the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s process of how they assess and approve vaccines https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/about-covid-19-vaccines/how-covid-19-vaccines-are-tested-and-approved?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIxZyZ5IvK7gIVCCUrCh0GxwxsEAAYASACEgJGYvD_BwE

I have chronic disease, is it safe for me to get the vaccine?

If you’re worried about whether you or a family member can get the vaccine, please consult your doctor.  The Pfizer vaccine has been tested in the elderly and people with chronic conditions.  It’s likely that people with compromised immune systems will benefit from the stronger Pfizer vaccine but that’s yet to be confirmed.

How will vaccinations be recorded?

Every person immunised will have that recorded in the Australian Immunisation Register. Every Australian will have access to a digital and hardcopy certificate proving that they have received a vaccine. 

Can I choose what vaccine I receive?

Unfortunately, no. At this stage, the Federal Government has been very clear about who will get which vaccine. 

Those first in line are quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability staff and aged care and disability residents. 

This group will get the Pfizer vaccine. Pretty much everyone else at this stage will be getting the AstraZeneca vaccine once it has received approval. 

Could the vaccine cause a false positive?

The swab is for the virus, not the antibodies, so it should not be affected by the vaccine, other than perhaps making the viral load lower and therefore detection harder.  

Flu vaccine is also important in the health care setting What is the optimal time interval of flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine?

The official recommendation from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is:

  • Not to give COVID-19 and flu vaccines on the same day
  • Optimally, to give them 14 days apart

ATAGI also note that there may be situations where giving vaccines closer together or at the same time is the better course

What happens if I’ve already had COVID-19?

Very few people in Australia as a proportion of the population have had COVID-19, so antibody testing won’t be done prior to vaccination.  An immunisation is more likely to be a booster to immunity rather than cause problems.

Are we relying on herd immunity developing eventually?

Herd immunity is only one aspect of how we share protection from a vaccine. The other is that immunisation should reduce the amount of virus circulating – which is what social distancing does too.  Booster shots may be needed.  It’s too early to say.

Will there be any side effects?

All medicines can have side effects. If you do experience any side effects, most of them are minor and temporary. People with a history of anaphylaxis need to take advice from their GP about the Pfizer vaccine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any further questions about side effects. If you have a severe reaction, dial 000 or go to your nearest hospital.

What are some of the potential side effects?

Redness at injection site, nausea, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and joint pain are potential side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any further questions about side effects.

What if I am taking other medicines?

Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure about what medicines, vitamins or supplements you are taking and if these affect, or are affected by the vaccine.

Are we only looking at two vaccines?

No. Pfizer, Astra and Novavax.  There are at least three others under development just in Australia.  The results from the Novavax trial are very promising. 

When can I expect to receive the vaccine?

The Australian government has announced Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy.

Phase 1a will see 678,000 people, including quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and aged care and disability staff and residents, get the Pfizer-BioNTech jab from mid-February to the end of March.

You will need to receive a second injection around one month after the first.

Phase 1b is a significantly larger rollout in which 6.1 million people including anyone aged over 70, other healthcare workers, younger adults with an underlying condition and high-risk workers will get a vaccine.

It also includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over 55.

By then, the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which will be made in Australia and does not require super-cold storage, should also have received approval.

Phase 2a covers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are between 18-54, along with Australians over 50 years old and other critical high-risk workers.

Phase 2b is the rest of the adult population, plus anyone from the previous phases that have been missed out.

Phase 3 will see children given the jab, but only “if recommended” as evidence currently shows that they don’t transmit COVID-19 like adults.

For more information visit https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/australias-covid-19-vaccine-national-roll-out-strategy

The Australian government expects the majority of vaccines to be administered by late October 2020.

What are the different strains of COVID-19?

Dr Norman Swan explains https://www.www.mydr.com.au/covid-19/what-are-the-different-strains-of-covid-19/

Will we need the COVID-19 vaccine yearly?

Dr Norman Swan explores the question https://www.www.mydr.com.au/covid-19/will-we-need-the-vaccine-yearly-dr-norman-swan/

How will I know I am protected after I have the vaccine?

Dr Norman Swan answers this question https://www.www.mydr.com.au/covid-19/how-will-i-know-i-am-protected-after-i-have-the-vaccine/

Is COVID-19 seasonal?

We asked Dr Norman Swan https://www.www.mydr.com.au/covid-19/is-covid-seasonal/

Can the COVID-19 virus mutate?

Dr Norman Swan discussed this question https://www.www.mydr.com.au/covid-19/can-the-covid-19-virus-mutate-dr-norman-swan/

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