Vaccination and treatment information

Last Updated: 13 Jan 2021 4:18pm

The virus that causes COVID-19 (called SARS-CoV-2) is a new and different virus. It was an unknown virus until the first cases of COVID-19 started to be detected towards the end of 2019. The virus has since been identified as something that has not been seen before in human populations.

Because COVID-19 is an illness that is different to anything else we have seen before, it requires its own vaccine.

The World Health Organisation is coordinating the global effort to manufacture a vaccine against COVID-19. Australia has been actively involved in research and development and is contributing to the global effort to find vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

It takes time to develop a vaccine from scratch. First, preliminary research is undertaken to identify possible vaccines, then test batches of the vaccine are created, then researchers needs to check that it is effective and safe for use on a wide range of people – this includes multiple periods of human vaccination trials. If trials are successful and the vaccine is proven to be both safe and effective against COVID-19, it will need to be manufactured and distributed on a large scale. The logistics of this process are complex and it will take time.

While we wait for a vaccine to be readily available, it’s important we all follow the rules and keep up COVID-safe behaviours to stop the spread of COVID-19. Stay home if you are sick and get tested if you have symptoms. When you are out – physically distance as much as possible, wash your hands well and often, and always cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.

What is the latest information on vaccine development?

There are several vaccines currently under development around the world and a number of them are at the clinical trial stage. A few are in phase 3 of clinical trials – this means that researchers are getting closer to being able to more conclusively analyse the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.

Australia has entered into 5 separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, if they are proved safe and effective. You can read more about Australia’s vaccine agreements and the progress of each vaccine on the Australian Department of Health website.

The Novavax and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are expected to be available in Australia from early to mid-2021. This is subject to approval of the vaccine by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). It is important to remember that the situation can change at any time. Until a vaccine has been proved completely safe and effective, and mass manufacture is underway, no timeframe is certain.

More general information view Australia’s plan for vaccination and treatments.

What will happen once a vaccine is available?

Once a vaccine becomes available, Tasmania will be part of a national coordinated approach to roll out free vaccines. There are some key principles and assumptions that will underpin the vaccination program. These include:

  • Vaccines will be free of charge for all Australian citizens, permanent residents and most visa holders.
  • Vaccination will be strongly encouraged for everyone who is able to be vaccinated.
  • The vaccine will be rolled out first to identified populations. There will be scope to respond to outbreaks by redirecting vaccination priority to other areas/populations should this become necessary during the roll out.

Identifying how the vaccine is rolled out will take into consideration Tasmania’s high-risk groups. High-risk groups may include:

  • People who are at an increased risk of exposure to the virus. This may include Health care workers, including those in hospitals and aged care facilities.
  • People who are at an increased risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19, relative to the general population. This may include elderly populations and those with compromised immune health.
  • People working in services critical to the functioning of our society, including some essential services staff and people working in supply and distribution of essential goods and services.

If there is no vaccine, what is the treatment for COVID-19 right now?

There is a large scale global effort underway to find safe and effective treatments for COVID-19. This work is being undertaken alongside vaccine research.

It’s important to remember that most people who get COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. Most people recover at home over a week or two with no treatment required.

Medical care can treat most symptoms – this may include increased fluid intake, rest and healthy eating. In more severe cases hospitalisation could be required and patients may need breathing support.

It’s important to understand that COVID-19 is a virus. Traditional antibiotic treatment, as used to treat bacterial infections, will not work against the COVID-19 virus.

A number of potential treatments continue to be trialled for effectiveness. Some of the more common drugs gaining public recognition include ivermectin, doxycycline and zinc (used together), remdesivir, corticosteroids and hydroxychloroquine. Though trialling these potential treatments is important, remember that just because a drug or treatment method is receiving widespread attention it doesn’t mean it is safe or effective for treating COVID-19. There are a number of potential treatment options that have been in the international spotlight and trialled, but found not to be effective.

The only treatment that has been given temporary approval for use in Australia by the TGA is remdesivir. Some studies have shown that this antiviral drug can help severely sick adults and young people get out of hospital sooner. Studies on the efficacy of remdesivir are continuing and it is not a guaranteed treatment for COVID-19. It is also only available to hospitalised patients who meet certain criteria.

The best approach to saving lives remains limiting the spread of COVID-19 to protect our population and prevent vulnerable Tasmanians from contracting the virus. Every individual plays a significant role in protecting our state from the impacts of COVID-19. See more about coronaviruses and what is known about COVID-19.