COVID-19 vaccines: Your burning questions answered

The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has joined Australia’s vaccination program. Here’s what you need to know about getting your jab.

Australia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is gathering pace with innoculations now available through pharmacies, GP clinics and vaccination hubs around the country.

With Australians eager to reopen locked down parts of the country and return to a more normal way of life, the vaccination is free and now available to people over the age of 12.

What vaccines are available and which will I get?

Stocks of Moderna have now arrived in Australia and people aged 12-59 can receive either this or Pfizer, depending on where they get their inoculation.

Moderna is an mRNA vaccine similar to Pfizer, although it is a little easier to handle logistically as it has better temperature stability.

“Vials may be stored refrigerated between 2C to 8C for up to 30 days prior to first use, whereas Pfizer can only be stored for five days at this temperature,” University of South Australia chairman of biostatistics Professor Adrian Esterman says.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is recommended for people aged 60 and over, but those over 18 can also choose to have this shot.

The federal government’s information website provides details on when, how and where Australians can get vaccinated.

Where can I get the Covid-19 vaccine?

AstraZeneca vaccines are being delivered via GP-led respiratory clinics, general practices, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, and state and territory-run vaccination clinics.

The Moderna vaccine is being delivered through pharmacies.

More than 200 Chemist Warehouse pharmacies throughout Australia are offering both AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccinations.

To make a booking click here.

“As the House of Wellness, we are passionate about providing easily accessible and safe Covid-19 vaccination to all eligible Australians, while educating consumers on the importance of the vaccination,” Chemist Warehouse director Mario Tascone says.

People eligible for a Pfizer vaccine can have their jab at selected GP clinics or state-run vaccination hubs.

Residential aged care and disability care facilities may receive their vaccine from providers who will deliver it on site.

See the eligibility checker to find out when and where you can receive a vaccine.

If you are eligible, you will be able to view vaccination locations and book an appointment.

Some states and territories may have different eligibility criteria based on their Covid-19 situation, so it is important to keep up to date with the advice in your state:

How many doses of the Covid-19 vaccine do you need?

All the Covid-19 vaccines currently approved in Australia require two doses.

The two doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine need to be administered at least 21 days apart but, depending where you live, may be longer.

Doses of Moderna are usually given four to six weeks apart, while the AstraZeneca vaccine should be given four to 12 weeks apart.

According to the ATAGI advice, the recommended interval between doses creates the best immune response, ensures the most effective protection and maximises broader community coverage.

How effective are the Covid-19 vaccines?

Pfizer has been found to have an efficacy of 95 per cent.

The Moderna vaccine has been found to be 98.2 per cent effective at preventing severe disease and 63 per cent effective at preventing asymptomatic infection.

Despite early reported lower efficacy rates for AstraZeneca, the RACGP reported a recent real-world UK study found no substantial difference to the Pfizer vaccine in its effectiveness.

“With respect to the Delta variant, the Pfizer vaccine has an efficacy of 88 per cent at preventing symptomatic Covid infection after two doses and is 96 per cent effective against severe disease or death,” Prof Esterman says.

“It is expected that the Moderna vaccine will have similar efficacy.”

A Public Health England study found AstraZeneca was about 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant.

How likely is blood clotting from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine?

A rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine is blood clots or thrombosis.

However, the World Health Organisation declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe and effective when given in two doses, eight to 12 weeks apart.

Overall, Australian Government Department of Health advises thrombosis is estimated to occur in about six cases from every one million people vaccinated, but the rate is estimated to be 20-40 cases per million in those under 50 – hence the priority on the Pfizer vaccine in this age group.

While very rare, thrombosis can occur four to 26 days after vaccination.

Symptoms include abdominal pain and severe headaches that do not ease with pain relief.

People should seek medical attention immediately if they experience these symptoms.

Will the vaccines fight different strains of Covid-19?

Research so far suggests most available vaccines will still protect against the virus and its more serious effects.

“If there are breakthrough infections in vaccinated patients, then we will need to work through what we need to change in vaccine preparations to tackle these new variants, not unlike seasonal vaccinations,” The Kirby Institute UNSW Associate Professor Dr Stuart Turville says.

Clinical trials are working to find out if we will need annual or longer booster doses to ensure long-term immunity.

Australians may need an annual Covid-19 booster shot, at least for the next few years.

What are the likely side effects from the Covid-19 vaccine?

According the federal government Department of Health, any side effects are typically mild and may only last a few days.

Normal temporary side effects of the vaccines include pain where the needle was injected, tiredness, fever or muscle aches.

Some will experience flu-like symptoms that feel worse when compared to other common vaccinations, and may need time to recover.

See your doctor, nurse or go to hospital if you are concerned about your condition after vaccination.

Read more about the coronavirus vaccines at the Australian Government Department of Health’s Covid-19 information site.

Written by Sarah Marinos with Claire Burke, Dan Imhoff. Updated September 2021.