The most recent Melbourne lockdown has driven home the need for vaccinations, however people are still hesitant when it comes to getting the jab.
Dr Marinis Pirpiris, the president of the Hellenic Medical Society of Australia, spoke to Neos Kosmos to dispel some of the conspiracy theories, outline the facts and get the message out about vaccines and their effectiveness.
Here’s all you need to know:
Following the latest developments, has the uptake for vaccinations increased in Melbourne?
The rate of uptake for vaccinations has increased.
As per the press release from Health Minister Greg Hunt MP on the 26 May 2021, the Australian Government released 40,000 doses of the vaccine immediately that week. This was to be supplemented by an additional 15,000 doses per week for the coming six weeks.
Of the 598 aged care facilities in Victoria, 569 have received a first dose, and 361 are fully vaccinated with both doses.
As of 1 June, the total doses administered were 494,037 with 20,484 having been administered over the previous 24 hours. There were 424,251people who had had their first dose with 18,946 of these receiving it over the previous 24 hours. There have been 69,784 who received their second dose with 1,538 of these receiving their second dose over the previous 24 hours.
What is the desired portion of vaccinations needed in order to be able to feel as though we have brought transmission under control?
In order to achieve herd immunity, we would have to reach an immunisation rate of a minimum of 70 per cent. The US is aiming for a vaccination level for herd immunity of 75-85 per cent. There are some uncertainties at this point as we continue to learn about this new challenge.
We may continue to have intermittent periods, where we wear masks, perform hand hygiene and carry out social distancing to help manage outbreaks of new COVID-19 variants. This will (continue to) occur until we reach a position where the authorities have confidence THAT we are protected, and that the disease is in fact “endemic”.
Does the vaccination protect us and, if so, for how long?
With people who have been vaccinated, antibodies are detected for at least six months with only a minimal decrease in the level of antibodies. This does not mean that the protection drops off after six months. The aim of the second dose, is to prolong the effect of the immunisation. The second dose has been found to be effective in maintaining the immunity for the longer term.
It is likely that we will eventually move to a model where we will be offered a yearly vaccination, not unlike the Flu vaccine.
Once immunised, the COVID-19 vaccine will protect the immunised person. However, there is still a possibility that, despite being immunised, you may transmit the virus to others. You may inadvertently infect others.
The recent case of the health worker in an aged care facility who had been vaccinated but nonetheless tested positive raises questions: Can someone who has been vaccinated test positive to COVID-19? Can that person also be a carrier in the transmission of the virus?
This is of relevance to our aged care facilities, which are usually staffed with non-permanent, full-time staff. As the staff may move between sites and hospitals, they may inadvertently carry the virus from site to site. As such, until further information is obtained, the government response will continue to be rapid in cases of outbreaks in the coming 12 months.
What happens in different strains of the virus? How protected are we with the vaccination? Many are afraid that we may need to be vaccinated for every different variant? How valid is such a concern?
All viruses mutate. All the vaccines, which have been approved for use in Australia have been demonstrated to be effective in preventing serious illness with COVID-19.
There are new vaccines regularly appearing on the market. The Australian Government and the Therapeutic Goods Administration are continually monitoring the data and the international experience.
Eventually, the virus may mutate sufficiently for the vaccine not to be as effective. This means that the vaccine would need to be periodically updated. We may require further updated vaccinations in the future – not unlike the annual flu vaccine.
Should someone who has already had COVID-19 be vaccinated?
In Australia, people who have had COVID-19 and have recovered should still be vaccinated. The protection that the infection gives you may vary from person to person. Health authorities are still unclear as to how long immunity may last. As such, you should still be vaccinated to protect your family, friends and colleagues from severe disease.
There are different vaccines for different age groups. Can someone choose which vaccine they prefer?
There are many vaccines that are available. The vaccines approved for use and have been prioritised by the government for those at risk.
At this point of the pandemic, Australia has made two vaccines widely available – The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
As a general comment, excluding health care workers and people in aged care facilities:
- People aged 40-49 may access the Pfizer vaccine with a booking; and
- People aged over 50 years may access the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Numerous vaccine centres have been opened.
As things are now, you cannot select which vaccine you will receive during the immunisation program.
Australia has entered into a number of separate agreements to secure more than 195 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, should they prove to be effective.
The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved on the 25 January. This vaccine has been provisionally registered for use in individuals 12 years or older.
The University of Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine is also approved. The AstraZeneca vaccine has also been provisionally approved for use in people 18 years and over. Australia has secured 3.8 million doses of this vaccine from offshore sources and will be manufacturing 50 million doses through Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL).
A number of other vaccines may eventually be available. Australia has committed to a Moderna COVID-19 advanced purchase agreement. Novavax vaccine is being evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Australia has also signed up to the COVAX Facility, however vaccines produced through this facility will need to be approved for use by the TGA.
Much has been heard about the AstraZeneca vaccine and the creation of blood clots. How dangerous is it?
The public loses confidence fairly rapidly when there are reported issues with vaccines. The recent clots in some countries have led to a situation where people have become confused and have not had their vaccination. While there is a risk of a blood clot, particularly in people aged less than 50 years, the vaccine is very much more likely to save lives. The risk of blood clots is fairly low and is much lower than that with COVID infection. The risks of clot have been estimated at approximately four cases in 1,000,000 people with the immunisation (0.0004 per cent). The risks of clot in people who get COVID is estimated to be around 165,000 cases in 1,000,000 (16.5 per cent).
To put this into perspective, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the risk of clot with use of oral contraceptive pills in users who are not pregnant is 3-9/10,000 woman-years. The background rate of those not taking the oral contraceptive pill is 1-5/10,000 woman-years. In this setting, one may surmise that the risk of clot is low.
In order to provide an even greater level of safety in people aged less than 50 years, the Australian government has provided them with access to the Pfizer vaccine.
Regarding AstraZeneca, what type of side effects may we experience?
There may be symptoms with the vaccine including:
*Pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itching at the injection site;
*Fever and chills;
*Feeling unwell; and
It may even cause:
*enlarged glands (lymph nodes);
*pain in the limbs;
*decreased appetite; and
The effects are usually mild. They start within a day and may last one to two days.
What signs should we watch out for after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca and what do we need to do should these occur?
There are some very rare side effects with the AstraZeneca which include:
- Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) which occurs in one in a million; and
- Blood clotting and a low platelet count which occurs in four to six people in a million – this occurs approximately four to 20 days after the vaccination and can lead to catastrophic consequences.
You should seek medical help from your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing, wheezing and a fast heart beat;
- Severe persistent headaches;
- Blurred vision;
- Weakness of face or limbs;
- Confusion or seizure;
- Persistent abdominal pain;
- Swelling of the legs; and
Your doctor will be able to assess you. You will need to tell the doctor that you have recently had your immunisation. If you experience severe symptoms you may call 000.
What are the most regular side effects of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and how long do they last for?
Common side effects include:
- Pain at the injection site;
- Muscle pains;
- Fever and chills; and
- Joint pain.
Less common side-effects include:
- Enlarged glands (lymph nodes);
- Feeling unwell;
- Insomnia; and
- Itch at injection site
These side-effects are temporary and will usually settle within a day or two.
Some will experience flu-like illness, which is less common with the first dose and are common with the second dose.
Rare, severe reactions include severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
There is a rare risk of myocarditis from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. In Israel this was estimated to be 0.001 per cent. Medical help should be sought if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or a quick-beating or fluttering heart. There is some lack of clarity regarding the link, Most comments from the CDC of the US have stated that it does not seem to be a clinically relevant and clinically significant disease as the US has not seen any clinically relevant cases despite millions of vaccines. The US has vaccinated more than 165 million people in and the symptoms were mild for the people affected – mostly adolescents and young adults and more often after their second dose, with a return to normal activities when the symptoms resolved.
Should you have any concerns, discuss them with your general practitioner.
If you have a severe reaction, call 000 if you experience difficulties in breathing.
Which groups are considered the most vulnerable for whom vaccination should take place immediately?
The risk factors are as follows:
- Old age – as compared with those aged less than 50 years, the risk of death increases with every decade of life;
- 50-59 years increased risk of death by two times; and
- >80 years increased risk of death >10 times
In Australia, the case fatality ratio increases with age:
- 50-64 years 0.6 per cent;
- 65-79 years 7 per cent; and
- >or equal to 80 years 33.8 per cent.
Anyone with multiple comorbidities should discuss COVID-19 with their general practitioner
A recent Australian and New Zealand consensus statement agreed that patients with COVID-19 and pre-existing cardiovascular disease as at risk of severe disease and death. A study of 46,000 patients in China found that:
- Baseline cardiovascular disease increased the odds of severe disease versus mild disease by 3.42;
- Hypertension by 2.36; and
- Respiratory disease by 2.46.
- People working at border and quarantine facilities:
- Health-care workers;
- Aged-care facilities;
- Disability-care facilities; and
- Meat-processing facilities.
Children and Adolescents – this has been a topic of conversation since the beginning of the pandemic
Children with COVID-19 commonly do not exhibit symptoms. A large study of 1,475 children found that:
- 15 per cent were asymptomatic;
- 42 per cent had mild symptoms;
- 39 per cent had moderate illness; and
- 2 per cent had critical illness.
According to the TGA (February 2021), there is also a risk of a rare of a serious inflammatory condition in children, which may be life threatening.
When shall I get vaccinated?
The Australian government recommends that you get vaccinated as soon as possible. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The Australian government recommends that people over the age of 40 be immunised as soon as possible.
How many Australians have been vaccinated?
On 31 May the figures were:
- 4,243,600 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered Australians;
- 345,583 doses delivered in residential aged care and disability care; and
- 2,359,799 doses have been administered through primary care.
Will COVID-19 affect me?
As we move forward through COVID-19, it will become apparent that COVID-19 will eventually affect everyone. It does not pick and choose the individual. It is a biological agent. It is airborne. Eventually everyone will be exposed to COVID-19.
Can COVID-19 cause life-threatening complications?
Most definitely yes. COVID-19 can make you very sick. You may also spread it to your friends, families and colleagues.
Are vaccines safe?
Some people are very concerned about the safety. Safety has always been a priority in the development of the vaccine. There are many processes in place to ensure safety.
Will the vaccine give me COVID-19?
The vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19.
The vaccine does not include a live COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine teaches the body how to recognise and fight the virus.
Will the vaccine affect my DNA?
Your DNA is kept in the nucleus of the cell. The mRNA vaccine only provide the cell with information to help start building the protective response to the virus. The material does not enter the nucleus of the cell, where the DNA is housed. The vaccine does not affect of interact with your DNA.
Is immunisation effective?
There are approximately 96 COVID-19 vaccines in the process of being developed. In general terms, the reasons for getting immunised relate to:
- Protecting yourself;
- There is no way to predict how COVID-19 will affect the individual;
- Protecting your family; and
- Protecting your community.
People are not fully vaccinated until two to four weeks after their second vaccinations with (Pfizer/BioNTech or Astra Zenaca)
When analysing the effectiveness of the vaccine, some have been focussed on the relative risk reduction , which is the risk ratio of attack with and without a vaccine:
- 95 per cent for the Pfizer-BioNTech;
- 94 per cent for the Moderna-NIH;
- 67 per cent for the J&J; and
- 67 per cent for the AstaZeneca-Oxford
However, another way to analyse the data is the number of people needed to vaccinate to prevent another case, according to the risk of getting the disease based on the background incidence of the disease where the study was performed. Using this analysis the number of people needed to treat were:
- 117 for the Pfizzer-BioNtech;
- 76 for the Moderna-NIH;
- 84 for the J&J;and
- 78 for the AstraZeneca.
In any case, the overwhelming evidence that the Australian government has been sharing is that the AstraZeneca vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 and minimises your risk of severe disease, long-term health problems and death.
Can the COVID-19 vaccine affect my ability to have a baby?
It is safe to take the vaccine. There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes any problem with pregnancy. There is also no evidence that it affects fertility.
I heard that more people will die from the side effects from the vaccine – is this correct?
This is incorrect. The vaccine may cause some mild side effects which may be managed with mild pain relief. Australia’s TGA keeps a very close eye on the data and does not approve vaccines that are not safe or effective.
The virus will mutate quickly, so it is no use to get vaccinated – is this correct?
Based on the best available evidence, COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the latest variant. Furthermore, if you are infected with COVID-19, the vaccines minimise your risk of getting serious health effects or succumbing to the effect of the virus. The current vaccines are very effective against severe illness.
Is COVID-19 a hoax?
This is not a hoax. Australia has been an integral part of the global response to COVID-19. Our laboratories were some of the first to isolate the virus outside China. The virus exists and is a part of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)-CoV-2 family. It is a Coronavirus. The Coronaviruses are responsible for about 10-15 per cent of common colds. SARS-CoV was first detected as a cause of an outbreak in November 2002. From 2002 until 2004, 774 people died.
In 2012, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)-CoV was identified in Saudi Arabia followed by a MERS outbreak in South Korea in 2015 and Saudi Arabia on 2018. The difference with SARS-CoV-2 is that its infectivity is so much greater than MERS-CoV. In fact, the initial SARS-CoV-2 was not as deadly as SARS-CoV or MERS-CoV. However, because it is much more infective, it infects a much greater proportion of the population so that more people will eventually die. In fact, COVID-19 is the seventh member of the coronavirus to infect humans and was characterised as a pandemic by the WHO on 11 March, 2020. Other previous global pandemics have included the Spanish Flu (1918), the Asian Flu (1957) and the Hong Kong flu (1968).
It is important to remember that global pandemics are deadly. The Spanish flu was responsible for 50 million deaths, the Asian flu with 1.5 million deaths and the Hong Kong flu 1 million deaths. The only responsible decision is to get immunised as soon as possible.
There is a conspiracy that people are using COVID-19 in order to collect your DNA.
This is incorrect. The government is not taking any blood samples at the time of vaccination. There is no DNA being collected.
If you have any queries, you may contact the information lines from the Department of Health CORONA information lines:
Switchboard: (02) 6289 1555; abd
Freecall: 1800 020 103
There is also the website located on www.australia.gov.au
The national coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine helpline is on 1800 020 080.
For those with access to the internet, there are also the following Apps available:
*Coronavirus Australia App : to stay up to date with official information; and
*Australian Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19 to learn the latest on Australia’s response to coronavirus.
You may also access the latest information on the government website