COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
Vaccine Safety & Efficacy
Is the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe?
All COVID-19 vaccinations, including the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, 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.
As of April, 2021, the current recommendation is that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults under 50 years of age who have not already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. You can read more about this here.
How effective is the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine?
Based on clinical trials and information from regulators, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is about 62 – 74% effective at preventing people from getting sick with COVID-19.
Clinical trial data also suggests very good protection (possibly close to 100%) against severe COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca contain a live virus?
No. The COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca contains a harmless ‘common cold’ virus (an adenovirus) that carries the piece of genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into your cells. This adenovirus has been modified so that it can only enter your cells once, and it cannot replicate and spread to other cells. It therefore cannot cause infection, and does not behave like a ‘live vaccine’. It is considered safe for people who cannot have live vaccines, such as people with immunocompromise (weakened immune systems).
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.
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.
How does the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine prevent illness from COVID-19?
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine can prevent people from becoming ill from COVID-19. AstraZeneca COVID-19does not contain any live SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19), and it cannot give you COVID-19. It contains the genetic code for an important part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus called the spike protein that is carried into your cells by a harmless common cold ‘carrier’ virus (an adenovirus). Your body then makes the spike protein and uses it to learn to recognise and fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The adenovirus has been modified so that it cannot replicate once it is inside cells. This means it cannot spread to other cells and cause infection.
Why are multi-dose vials being used to store COVID-19 vaccines?
Multi-dose vials contain more than one dose of a vaccine in a single glass vial. They usually include 5–20 doses per vial, and each dose is then carefully extracted and given via individual syringes for injection. Use of multi-dose vials is the most efficient way to distribute a new vaccine to the maximum number of people and is being used world-wide for all COVID-19 vaccines.
Packaging vaccine doses multi-dose vials is safe and is supported by numerous quality controls and good handling practices.
Multi-dose vials are routinely used in Australia for the tuberculosis (BCG) vaccine and were used for the 2009 pandemic influenza vaccine. Immunisation providers are trained in and follow guidelines specifically on the use of multi-dose vials.
What happens if I miss the second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine?
If the second dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is overdue (i.e. past the preferred interval between the two doses of the vaccine), the second dose should be given as soon as possible.
A single dose is likely to only provide short-term protection. The second dose will be effective regardless of how late it is given. Even if the second dose is late, no vaccine doses need to be repeated.
Additional or booster doses beyond the two-dose course are not currently recommended.
The need for any additional doses will be reviewed over time.
Am I able to have my second dose of AstraZeneca in less than 12 weeks?
The Australian government has stipulated that the AstraZeneca vaccine is most effective when the second dose is administered 12 weeks after the first dose. If you are required to have the second dose of the vaccine sooner (e.g. for travel arrangements), it is OK to have the second dose anywhere between 4 and 12 weeks after the first dose.
Can I get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead?
Currently, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the only vaccine being supplied to General Practices as part of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out.
We are not expecting to receive other types COVID-19 vaccines and have been advised that the vast majority of Australians will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Eligibility, Cost & Access
Will the vaccine be free for everyone?
Yes. The vaccine will be free for all Australian citizens, permanent residents, and most visa-holders, regardless of whether you have Medicare or not.
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.
According to the RACGP, the following visa sub-classes will not be eligible:
- 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.
How many times will I need to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
To achieve protection against COVID-19, you will need to have two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, spaced 12 weeks apart.
Can I receive the AstraZeneca vaccine if I am on anticoagulation medications, am underdoing anticoagulation therapy, or have any coagulation disorder?
COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca should be given with caution to individuals with thrombocytopenia, any coagulation disorder or to persons on anticoagulation therapy, because bleeding or bruising may occur following an intramuscular administration in these individuals.
We recommend speaking to your GP about your eligibility prior to receiving your COVID-19 vaccine.
Common side effects after AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine
As with any vaccine, you may have some side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Common side effects after COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca include:
Pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itching at the injection site
Less common side effects after AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine
Less common side effects after AstraZenecaCOVID-19 Vaccine:
Enlarged lymph nodes
Pain in limb
When should I seek medical attention after vaccination?
You should seek medical attention after vaccination if:
You think you are having an allergic reaction. Call 000 if you experience severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, a fast heartbeat or collapsing
You have an expected side effect of the vaccine which has not gone away after a few days
Severe, persistent headaches that are different to your "usual" headaches and do not settle with paracetamol or other pain killers
Weakness of face or limbs
Confusion or seizure
You are worried about a potential side effect or have new or unexpected symptoms, particularly in the 4-20 days after vaccination, such as:
Shortness of breath
Persistent abdominal pain
Pin-prick rash or bruising not at the injection site that cannot be explain.
How can I report side effects after the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine?
Patients are encouraged to report any side effects after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Rare side effects that have been reported after an AstraZeneca Vaccine
- Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) - occurs in approximately 1 in a million people
A very rare and unusual clotting condition:
A very rare side effect of an unusual condition involving blood clotting and low blood platelet count may occur after the AstraZeneca vaccine. This affects approximately 4 to 6 out of a million people after receiving a first dose, but has not been seen after the second dose of this vaccine.
The blood clots can occur at different parts of the body, including the brain and the abdomen. The low level of blood platelets can cause bleeding.
The symptoms of this condition mostly start between 4 and 20 days after vacciantion.
People with this condition get very unwell and need to go to hospital. This condition can lead to long term disability and even death.
What proof will I receive that I have been immunised against COVID-19?
You will be able to access your proof of immunisation in a few ways.
If I am unwell after my COVID-19 vaccine, do I need to get a COVID-19 test?
Some side effects from COVID-19 vaccinations might be similar to COVID-19. However, COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain any live SARS-CoV-2 virus and cannot cause COVID-19.
If you develop general symptoms like fever, headache or tiredness in the first two days after vaccination, and
If you are sure that you don't have any respiratory symptoms (e.g. runny nose, cough, sore throat, loss of smell or loss of taste)
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
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 the vaccine affect my fertility?
There is no evidence to suggest any vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, have any effect on male or female fertility.
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. 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).
You can now waitlist to receive your 2021 flu vaccine. Please note that you cannot have any type of vaccine within 2 weeks of receiving your COVID-19 vaccine.