Thankfully, our collective efforts have led to real progress with managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of new daily reported cases in Australia has remained relatively low since September 2020 .
So the next obvious step is protecting our population is vaccination – in addition to hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing masks.
You probably have a few important questions by this stage. Let’s have a look at some of the most frequently asked.
Q: Who will get vaccinated, and when?
A: The first priority groups wo;; start receiving vaccinations from next week.
Q: What is the planned rollout in Australia?
A: There are five planned phases, as follows:
The first phase, 1a, consists of quarantine and border workers, priority frontline healthcare workers, aged care and disability care staff and residents.
The second phase, 1b, consists of those aged 70 and over, other healthcare workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people > 55 years, younger adults with an underlying medical condition or disability, and critical and high risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.
The third phase, 2a, includes adults aged 50-69 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18- 54 years, and other critical and high risk workers.
The fourth phase, 2b, includes any other unvaccinated adults and anyone who missed vaccination in the earlier phases.
The fifth and final phase, 3, will be those aged under 18 years, if this is the recommendation .
Q: What vaccines will be available in Australia?
A: We have received the first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. In total, 20 million doses have been secured by the Government.
In addition, the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be manufactured in Broadmeadows, Victoria. Both of these vaccines have received TGA approval.
Australia have also entered into agreements for supply with Novavax and COVAX, if they are deemed safe and effective .
Vaccines are only made available once they pass TGA approval (Therapeutic Goods Administration being the Government’s health regulatory agency).
Q: How effective and safe are the different vaccines?
A: The Pfizer vaccine was shown in trials to be 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 after receiving the two-dose course (shots given 21 days apart), whether the recipient is aged 16 or over 65 . There is insufficient data to prove benefit from a single dose .
Side effects are usually mild and last a few days at the most. The most common adverse effects are: pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle ache, chills, joint pain, and fever.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be given 4-12 weeks apart  and has a reported efficacy of 63% . Side effects appear similar to those of the Pfizer vaccine i.e. injection-site tenderness/pain, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, feeling unwell, fever, chills, joint pain and nausea. Most of these reactions were mild to moderate in severity and also resolved within a few days .
It’s recommended to take paracetamol if you do get side effects, if you need to.
More information on the Pfizer vaccine can be found on this webpage by the Department of Health, or here (please note this is a US website but has excellent information).
More information on the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine can be found on this webpage by the Department of Health, or this webpage by the World Health Organization.
Q: What should I do if I am pregnant, planning pregnancy or breast feeding?
A: Essentially, if you are planning pregnancy or breastfeeding, the latest advice is that it appears to be safe to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
If you are pregnant, it is a decision worth discussing with your doctor, as there is little data about the outcomes of women who receive the vaccine while pregnant. On the other hand, it seems that pregnant women have an increased risk of complications such as higher rates of admission to intensive care or having their babies prematurely. More severe illness from COVID-19 is also seen in pregnant women over the age of 35, overweight, or who have certain medical conditions. This leaflet has some useful information to help with the question of vaccination.
The Australian Government Department of Health has a great webpage here to answer many more popular questions.
And finally, for an informative and lively debate on COVID vaccines, I recommend this recent episode of ABC's Q&A. Topics included effectiveness of different vaccines at preventing breakthrough cases, what evidence we have so far for new variants to be covered by these vaccines, herd immunity, and more passionately argued topics. #ABCqanda
Nick Coatsworth, Federal Government infectious diseases advisor;
Sharon Lewin, Leading infectious diseases expert and Director of the Doherty Institute;
Michelle Ananda-Rajah, Associate director, Monash Institute of Medical Engineering; and
Tony Blakely, Epidemiologist, University of Melbourne.
Dr Alice Lam
I'm a doctor who is passionate about writing quality health content.