We are getting many enquiries about the COVID19 vaccinations. At present we are preparing ourselves to provide the vaccinations. We have been notified by the Department of Health that we are an eligible practise to administer the vaccine. When we will be administering the vaccines is not known at present. We will provide updates as soon as we know more. In the meantime, can we please request not to be contacting the practise with COVID vaccine requests as we are receiving so many enquiries. This is making it hard for us to provide our usual medical services.
Additionally, we are receiving requests to provide letters of exemption for vaccinations. As vaccination is voluntary, we will not be issuing letters of exemption.
These are difficult times for many people in the community and already, the issue of vaccine hesitancy is a concern that threatens to disrupt the Federal Government’s plan to deliver its national vaccine strategy for the benefit of the whole nation.
It is time for us to open the conversation and engage our patients, so that vaccine readiness is in the forefront of the public’s mind.
Here are some frequently asked questions:
Which vaccine will I get?
Vulnerable and high priority groups — including people working in quarantine and aged care — will likely get the Pfizer jab, while most Australians will get the AstraZeneca option.
How safe are these vaccines? It feels as if there has been a rush to bring these to market.
You should feel assured that our drugs and vaccination safety watchdog, also known as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia, has some of the highest standards in the world for screening new treatments.
This means that we don’t just accept the information from other nations unless they uphold similar high standards. Even then, we put them through our own screening process as well, which has added to the delay in being approved for use here.
What about the other vaccines? Should I wait for those rather than have the one I am being offered?
Other vaccines are on their way to being approved here also and it might seem confusing or scary to think that this process has come so far so rapidly.
You can be assured that the vaccines Australia will approve will work and will have the highest possible safety profile.
Will having the vaccine mean that we can stop the social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing?
The simple answer is, ‘not yet’.
Every Australian should feel proud that we have such low cases of COVID-19 and COVID-19-related deaths, because it has been very difficult to adhere to physical distancing and to change our lives around, yet we have all contributed by making these sacrifices.
But in order to keep things this way and to prevent a surge in hospitalisations and deaths due to some quarantine accident, as was experienced in Victoria in July 2020, we need to vaccinate the majority of Australians.
The vaccination program will take time, as it will occur in phases while the supplies of vaccine become available. Teams of doctors, an array of GP practices, and nurses are already preparing to receive these supplies in their clinics.
We are all in this for the long haul and need to stick to the national plan, which is to protect all Australians.
What side effects can I expect after having the vaccine?
The side effects from the vaccines can vary from local redness and a sore arm, to mild flu-like symptoms.
They should go away in a few days and reports from both the US and UK seem to list symptoms that are quite mild.
This has given us a great deal of confidence to proceed with the national vaccination strategy, which includes the most vulnerable members of our population in the first phase.
Will the COVID vaccine give me a COVID-19 infection?
No, it will not.
How will I report a suspected side effect?
There are several ways of doing this. You can tell your GP directly or report this to the centre where you received the vaccination.
Sometimes they are local reactions but not side effects that raise alarms bells.
If you are not sure about the reaction you are having, you can also report this directly through the TGA website.
Do I have to have the vaccine if I don’t want to?
No, you do not. The vaccine will be free and voluntary for all Australians.
It’s important to ask yourself what it is you are concerned about and to make a list of your questions. It can be very confusing to make a decision on your own, so make the time to speak with your GP and start the conversation, so that you’re able to make an informed decision.
We’re well aware that there will be some degree of vaccine hesitancy and this is partly because this is all so new, and also because people with extreme views express these on social media platforms, arousing strong emotions against population-based health strategies.
Are both vaccines effective?
Yes, they are both very good at providing protection from severe disease and even death from COVID-19, which is why they are high on the list of vaccine candidates for Australians.
We believe that neither of the vaccines will completely prevent the spread of COVID-19 between people who are carrying the virus silently, but not ill with it. That’s why social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks in close spaces will remain in place for a while longer until we get the spread of disease under control.
The vaccine needs to be given in two doses. What happens if I delay or miss my second dose?
The vaccines need to be delivered in two doses: Pfizer 21 days (three weeks) apart and AstraZeneca 12 weeks apart. A delay can affect their efficacy and make them less protective.
If you are travelling, it’s important that you arrange for the second dose to be given elsewhere. This will be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register.
You should get the second dose even if you have side effects after the first shot, unless the vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get the second injection.
If you miss your second dose, this means you are not protected against the effects of COVID-19 if you become exposed.
Who will get the vaccine first?
Australia’s national COVID vaccine strategy has been outlined to take place in three phases, with each having a stage (a) and (b) around 2–3 weeks apart.
Phase 1a: quarantine and border workers, frontline at-risk health workers, residential aged care and disability staff, residential and disability care residents.
Phase 1b: adults over 70, all other health workers including GPs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, younger adults with a medical condition, critical and high risk workers such as police, fire and emergency services, and meat processing workers.
Phase 2a: adults over 50 years, continuing on phase 1b with other high risk critical workers.
Phase 2b: balance of adult population and catch up of any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases.
Phase 3: people under 18, if recommended.
Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women?
Neither of the vaccines Australia is slated to receive initially have been tested on pregnant women in clinical trials, so there’s insufficient information about their effects on pregnant women and fetuses.
Administration should be considered only if the risk of contracting COVID-19 is high and cannot be avoided, or in case of underlying conditions that may result in serious complications of COVID-19.
When will I be able to see my GP for this?
Some general practice clinics will be administering the vaccine from late February 2021 and some will not. We have been invited to participate. When we know of how we will be involved and administering the vaccine, further updates will be provided.
It’s not like the regular flu vaccine clinics that you are used to. This will be a slower process as you will need to be asked a few questions, fill in a consent form and then wait for up to 15 minutes nearby or in a separate area with appropriate physical distancing.
If I don’t have a GP, where can I go to get this if I want to?
There will be designated COVID vaccination centres, much like the COVID testing clinics that you have grown accustomed to, and respiratory clinics for those being checked for symptoms.
You can also voluntarily enrol at one of the general practice clinics that is involved in the vaccination strategy and start up a relationship with a GP at the practice for your other regular health checks. This is a good opportunity to think long-term about your health.
Which vaccine will I have?
Most people in the community will not receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is being delivered in phase 1a. You will most likely be offered the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, as it seems to give good protection and appears that it is the next vaccine to be rolled out to the wider community.
It is entirely different, easier to handle, based off existing technology, and can be produced in Australia.
If I have multiple allergic reactions to drugs and have previously reacted to vaccines should I have this?
If you have an immune condition or a history of a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines, it’s important to discuss these issues first with your GP.
Can I have the flu vaccine too?
Yes you can, but it is advised that you space them at least two weeks apart – either before you commence the COVID-19 vaccination or two weeks after the second dose – so as to ensure a maximal immune response to both vaccines.