Dr Carl Wong is a Sydney GP based in Lane Cove. He also sits on the board of Sydney Community Services. Here, Dr Wong answers any questions you might have about the COVID vaccinations.
Is the vaccination safe especially as it has been manufactured so quickly?
Given the unprecedented worldwide interest and need for this vaccination, many of the progressive stages of vaccination research and trials which usually take years were instead done simultaneously, thus vastly expediating the whole process. The strong and stringent safety checks of usual vaccine production have remained the same.
Does the COVID vaccine contain live COVID virus? Can I get sick with COVID from the vaccine?
No. None of the current vaccines being rolled out in Australia contain live COVID.
What about the side effects?
It is common to get side effects typical to many vaccinations and the COVID vaccine will be no different – localised soreness at the injection site, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint soreness for a few days afterwards will be common in the first few days. The risk of serious side effects is low – less than 1 in 50,000 people.
I have serious allergies or other medical conditions – can I have the vaccination?
This is still unclear and depends on each specific condition. More information will be available in the coming weeks.
Who is eligible to receive the vaccination? How much will it cost?
Good news! ALL Australians will be able to receive the vaccination and it will be free. This includes those with Medicare, and also those who are visa-holders, those who have cancelled visas and also those in detention refugee facilities.
Where can I receive the vaccination?
Those who are eligible through Medicare, can access the vaccination through a general practice (GP) clinic; those without Medicare will need to access their vaccination via the state government-managed clinics.
Can I get my vaccination at my GP clinic or any that I choose?
That depends – the Australian government has asked GP practices to express their interest in providing this service, and they must be approved to able to vaccinate the public. Best to call and check with your preferred practice.
Which vaccinations are available, and what are the differences?
There are three brands available to Australians:
- Pfizer/BioNTech (COMIRNATY®) – two doses will be required at least 21 days apart, with a reported efficacy of about 95% . Target group: 16 years and older
- AstraZeneca (made here in Australia): two doses are also required likely one month apart, with a reported efficacy of about 62-74%
- Novavax – limited information available currently; reported 89% effective; will be available hopefully by mid 2021.
Initial clinical trial data for the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines suggest excellent protection (close to 100%) in severe COVID infection cases.
How long do the vaccinations last?
We don’t know yet and more research needs to be done. It may be that we need to get an annual booster, similar to the flu shot.
Can pregnant and breastfeeding women get the vaccination? What about children?
Unclear – pregnant women and children are excluded from the Pfizer vaccination due to lack of study data currently; more information is to follow from the government.
Do I get a choice of vaccination?
The short answer is no, and the vaccine brand you get depends on what category you fall into. The Pfizer vaccine will be available to those of ‘highest risk’ (ie quarantine/border control workers, COVID test clinics, aged care/disability residents and staff. The Astra Zeneca vaccine will be for everyone else (majority of the population).
When will I be able to get my vaccination?
This is being rolled out in clear stages:
- Late February – the high-risk groups
- March – 70+ year age group, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) >55years, emergency workers (police, firefighters, defence, emergency services), younger adults with serious chronic health conditions including those with disability)
- May – 50-69-years age group; ATSI 18-54yrs
- May/June onwards – rest of the population
Can I have the annual influenza vaccination with the COVID vaccination?
Currently it is not recommended to have these vaccinations done on the same day, and to wait at least 14 days between these vaccines.