Vaccine Safety & Efficacy
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
All COVID-19 vaccinations approved for use in Australia are safe and effective.
Before a COVID-19 vaccine can be approved for use in Australia, it must undergo the rigorous assessment and approval processes of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This includes assessment of the vaccine’s safety, quality and effectiveness.
How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine?
Preliminary results on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available are very promising. The results indicate that each of these vaccines are able to prevent against COVID-19 to a statistically significant degree.
The Pfizer vaccine is about 95% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on clinical trials and information from regulators.
The AstraZeneca / University of Oxford vaccine is about 62 – 74% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on clinical trials and information from regulators.
Initial clinical trial data for both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines suggest very good protection (possibly close to 100%) against severe COVID-19.
The Novavax vaccine is approximately 89% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19, based on a press release from the company.
Does the COVID vaccine contain a live COVID-19 strain and will I get sick after I receive the vaccine?
None of the vaccines currently being reviewed for use in Australia contain a live virus that can cause COVID-19. This means that the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.
What are the potential side effects of the COVID vaccine?
In the trials, the Pfizer vaccine was generally well-tolerated. The worst recorded side effects were fatigue and headaches after the second dose. Around 4% of people reported fatigue, and 2% reported a headache.
Other side effects included pain at the injection site and muscle aches – both common general vaccine side effects.
Since the vaccine was rolled out in the UK, there have been two reports of people with a history of allergies who have had serious adverse reactions to the vaccine. These are currently under investigation.
Will the COVID vaccine be effective on any new strains of the virus?
Clinical trials, so far, are showing that the COVID-19 vaccines induce antibodies that are likely to be able to respond to most minor changes in the virus’ gene sequence.
Australia will continue to closely monitor international developments regarding the COVID-19 variants of concern and will continue to perform careful genetic examination of the virus found in local cases.
What is herd immunity, and will the COVID-19 vaccine achieve this?
Herd immunity occurs when enough people are vaccinated to prevent the disease from easily moving from person to person. As such, it requires a large proportion of the population to be vaccinated.
The exact proportion that will need to be vaccinated to affect the spread of COVID-19 depends on characteristics of the disease; for example, how easily it is transmitted; and characteristics of the vaccine; for example, its ability to stop transmission, and the duration of the vaccine's protection.
It is easier to generate herd immunity with a vaccine that provides long-term protection and that prevents the transmission of the infection between people. Vaccines that provide short-term protection require booster doses, making herd immunity harder to achieve.
As we learn more about the characteristics of COVID-19 vaccines and how well they protect against the disease and spread of the virus, more studies will be undertaken to monitor how much impact the vaccines will have, and whether herd immunity is being developed over time.
The vaccine was developed so quickly. How do I know it is safe?
COVID-19 vaccines have been through the same rigorous testing as any other clinical vaccine trial that may take years to develop.
Typically vaccine trials and manufacturing take a long time because of the time it takes to get funding, ethics approval, preclinical studies, and recruiting of volunteers.
The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available were produced at such great efficiency because of the access to unlimited funding and the collaboration between highly motivated and very skilled professionals from all across the globe who have worked together towards a common goal, as well as tens of thousands of altruistic volunteers who participated in the clinical trials.
Should I get the vaccine if I am trying to get pregnant? Or should I wait?
There is currently no evidence that women who become pregnant after receiving the vaccine are at increased risk of teratogenicity, miscarriage, or maternal illness.
There is also no evidence to suggest that pregnancy should be delayed until after you have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Can I get the vaccine if I am pregnant?
Based on known data from other similar vaccines, it is unlikely that COVID-19 vaccines pose a risk to a pregnant woman or the fetus. However, as pregnant and breastfeeding women have not been included in initial trials, data is very limited and our current knowledge is based on inadvertently exposed patients and the impact of the disease in an unvaccinated population.
Although the available data does not indicate any safety concerns or harm to pregnancy, there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy.
However, if a pregnant woman meets the definition of being particularly vulnerable, then she should discuss the option of COVID-19 vaccination with her obstetrician, GP and/or midwife. This is based on the observation that people with certain underlying medical conditions are at very high risk of experiencing serious complications of COVID-19.
The most likely relevant groups of pregnant women include:
- Significant pre-existing medical conditions e.g. diabetes
- Solid organ transplant recipients
- Those with chronic respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis and severe asthma
- Those who have homozygous sickle cell disease
- Those receiving immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
- Those receiving dialysis or with advanced chronic kidney disease
- Those with significant congenital or acquired heart disease
Can I get the vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
There is no data yet on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women, or on the effects of inactivated vector-based vaccines or mRNA vaccines on breastfed infants or on milk production/excretion.
Will we still need other COVID-19 preventative measures, like social distancing and lockdowns, if a COVID-19 vaccine is available?
Initially, Australia will still need to have the flexible strategies already in place to control COVID-19.
If the vaccine program is effective and starting to reach a high proportion of people, it is hoped that we will be able to reduce some of these control measures.
This is likely to be a slow process and will rely on many people being willing to have the vaccine.
Vaccine Availability & Prioritisation
When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available?
A staged rollout of the vaccine is anticipated to commence as early as February 2021 for those with first priority. Read more about the phased rollout here.
Who will receive the COVID-19 vaccine first?
It will take time for enough vaccine doses to be manufactured so that the entire population can be vaccinated. Initially, the vaccine will be offered using a ‘priority framework’ that outlines how to allocate the initially limited available doses.
The first phase will vaccinate:
Quarantine & border workers
Aged care & disability care staff
Aged care & disability care residents
Children are not a priority group for COVID-19 vaccinations because of lesser disease severity in children than in older people.
Who decides who can get the COVID-19 vaccine first?
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has provided advice to the Australian Government on which groups should be prioritised for the first doses for possible COVID-19 vaccination in Australia.
The advice provided to the Australian Government is consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Eligibility, Cost & Access
Where will I be able to get the vaccine?
Initially there will be limited supplies of the vaccine, so priority groups will be offered the COVID-19 vaccine first.
Firstly, this will occur via hospital hubs in urban and rural locations around Australia, with further vaccination teams going out to aged care and disability care facilities.
As the roll out continues, vaccines will become available at other locations, including GP clinics that meet specific requirements, state-run vaccination clinics, and eventually at some workplaces and community pharmacies that meet specific requirements.
Will the vaccine be free for everyone?
The vaccine will be free for all Australian citizens, permanent residents, and most visa-holders.
If I am not an Australia citizen, am I still eligible for the vaccine?
Permanent residents and most visa holders will be eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccine.
The following visa sub-classes will not be eligible according to the RACGP:
- 771 (transit)
- 600 (tourist stream)
- 651 (eVisitor)
- 601 (electronic travel authority)
Will the vaccine be mandatory in Australia?
While the Australian Government strongly supports immunisation, it is not mandatory, and individuals may choose not to vaccinate.
If people chose not to have the COVID-19 vaccine, it will not affect their family’s eligibility for the Family Tax Benefit Part A, or their childcare fee assistance. Currently, this only includes the National Immunisation Program vaccines for those aged under 20 years.
It is possible that in the future, vaccination against COVID-19 might become a requirement for travel to certain destinations or for people working in high-risk workplaces. If this becomes the case, there will be exemptions for people who are unable to be vaccinated.
Will the vaccine be recommended for everyone?
Once a COVID vaccine is generally available, most people in the Australian community will be able to be immunised.
There may be some groups of people where the vaccination may not be recommended, such as people with specific medical conditions.
The TGA is currently reviewing available data on the potential COVID-19 vaccines and will provide recommendations on who should and should not be vaccinated.
How many times will I need to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
For the vaccines that are likely to be available in Australia, each person will need to receive two doses of the vaccine to be adequately immunised against COVID-19.
Influenza & COVID-19 Vaccines
Will the COVID-19 vaccine also protect me against the flu?
No, the vaccine will not protect you against influenza (the flu). The Australian Government recommends that you get the flu vaccine during flu season when it becomes available. This is to reduce your risk of contracting influenza, as it also reduces your risk of having influenza at the same time as COVID-19.
Being vaccinated against the flu also helps to protect others, particularly people who are more vulnerable to infections (e.g. elderly people).
The flu vaccine for next flu season is expected to be available in NSW from May 2021. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the flu vaccine can be had at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.