Dr Shannon Melody
On a global scale, COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of over 3 million people. Getting the jab when it is available to you will help protect you, your loved ones and the community.
All Tasmanians need to have accurate information to help them make an informed decision about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Below are answers to Tasmania’s most frequently asked questions.
Which COVID-19 vaccines are available in Tasmania and how do they work?
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia: the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both vaccines require two doses. For the Pfizer vaccine you will receive two vaccinations approximately three weeks apart. For the AstraZeneca vaccine you will receive two vaccinations approximately 12 weeks apart.
Both vaccines are highly effective at reducing the severity of COVID-19. Both vaccines work by training your immune system to recognise and respond to the virus that causes COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.
What about vaccine side effects and the blood clotting issue?
Over two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered globally to date. The COVID-19 vaccinations available in Australia have been approved by our expert regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Once approved, the TGA and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) monitor data within Australia and from around the world to ensure that the vaccines remain safe.
All vaccines can have side effects, and the COVID-19 vaccines are no different. After vaccination some people experience no side effects at all and some experience mild side effects. Serious side effects are very rare.
Common side effects of vaccination may include redness at the vaccine site, a sore arm, muscle aches and fatigue. Some people may also experience a mild fever or headache. These symptoms usually start within 24 hours of vaccination and last for 1-2 days. These symptoms are not of concern unless severe or persistent. If you experience side effects that worry you, contact your GP.
A rare but serious side effect called thrombosis with thrombocytopaenia syndrome (TTS) has been associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. TTS occurs when there are blood clots (thrombosis) and low platelets (thrombocytopaenia). This syndrome generally occurs between 4-30 days after the first dose of the vaccine. Global data suggests that while the overall incidence of TTS is low, it is higher in those under 60 years of age. This newly described syndrome is different from more common clots, such as deep vein thrombosis. These more common blood clots can occur in around 50 Australians every day separate to vaccination and are not related to the rare TTS clotting disorder.
TTS has not been seen after the Pfizer vaccine. As a result, the Pfizer vaccine is the preferred vaccine for people under 60 years of age.
If you have already received your first dose of AstraZeneca without complication, there is no reason to delay or miss your second dose (even if you are under 60). This is because reports of TTS following the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine are extremely rare. Both doses of the vaccine are required to be protected against COVID-19.
If you have any concerns about getting vaccinated, speak with your usual health care provider.
Which vaccine should I get?
Pfizer is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults under the age of 60.
In people aged 60 years and over, AstraZeneca is recommended. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk of the rare but serious blood clotting complication for people in this age group. This is because the risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19 infection increase with age.
Decisions about which vaccine to administer are based on the best medical evidence available.
Will the vaccine stop me from ever getting COVID-19?
Clinical trials and real-world studies have demonstrated that the COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 infections. For example, trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine has 95% efficacy. Less is known about the impact of the vaccines on transmission, however early findings are promising.
Why should I get vaccinated?
Vaccination is an important way to protect you, your family and your community against COVID-19. You will be protected from severe COVID-related illness and will have the peace of mind of offering another layer of protection to your loved ones and the people around you.
High levels of vaccination against COVID-19 is a key tool for fighting the pandemic. If most of the adult population gets vaccinated, this will reduce the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Every dose of vaccine makes a difference.