EXPLAINER

Who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and what's available

Australians are being urged to book in for a COVID-19 vaccine if they are eligible. Picture: Shutterstock
Australians are being urged to book in for a COVID-19 vaccine if they are eligible. Picture: Shutterstock

Millions of Australians have rolled up their sleeves to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Experts say it's the best way to prevent people suffering severely from the disease and to tackle the risk of outbreaks.

The latest outbreak which plunged Melbourne into a two-week lockdown has served as a reminder of the threat coronavirus poses the community.

As the rollout has started to be expanded across some states and territories, thousands more people are now eligible for vaccines.

Why is it important to get vaccinated?

Dr Dong Hua, from Campbelltown and Fairfield GP Respiratory Clinics said people should get the COVID vaccine because it is "Australia's best chance of reaching herd immunity."

"It protects the individual from the severe effects of COVID-19 and hospitalisation. That way our borders can open and we'll be able to lead our lives without the risk of further lockdowns," Dr Hua said.

"People often get complacent and don't realise that COVID remains a continual threat. Some patients have mentioned they will wait for a COVID outbreak to occur before they consider getting the vaccine. This mentality is concerning, as often it will be too late and they risk contracting COVID without any vaccine protection."

Dr Hua said is important for people to have a discussion with their GP about the benefits versus the risks associated with the vaccine.

"In instances in people over 50, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. What we have seen overseas especially in India and Brazil, and more recently the hotel quarantine breaches, is a stark reminder that COVID will continue to linger in the community in the future," he said.

Which vaccines are currently available?

There are currently only two vaccines available in Australia - AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Both vaccinations require two doses. AstraZeneca is given 12 weeks apart and Pfizer is administered three weeks apart.

Research has shown the vaccines provide optimal protection from the virus about two to three weeks after the second dose was administered.

It is not yet known how long the vaccine can protect against COVID-19.

Dr Dong Hua.

Dr Dong Hua.

Is it safe to have a COVID vaccination?

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked with a very rare side effect called 'thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome', which causes blood clotting.

Australia's vaccine taskforce, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, calculates the risk of getting the syndrome at about 2.6 cases per 100,00 doses in people under 50 and 1.6 cases per 100,000 doses in people over 50.

Which vaccine will I get?

ATAGI has advised people under 50 are preferred to get the Pfizer vaccine rather than AstraZeneca as a result.

Under-50s can still get either vaccine and should discuss the possible risks and benefits with their doctor.

Australia has agreements to get 40 million doses of Pfizer this year, but 20 million won't be available until at least September.

There is also an agreement for 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca to be supplied from overseas. A further 50 million doses will be manufactured in Victoria.

Who is eligible?

Across Australia everyone over 50 is eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Under-50s who are in phase 1a and 1b are also eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. This includes health, quarantine and border workers, people with disabilities and people with underlying medical conditions.

From June 8, Pfizer jabs will be made available to people aged between 40 to 49.

Coronavirus vaccines are being made available to all National Disability Insurance Scheme participants aged over 16.

Where can I get a vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccinations are at NSW Health vaccination hubs, some general practices and GP respiratory clinics across the state. To find a vaccine clinic closest to you visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker. Vaccination hubs are located at St George, RPA, Westmead, Liverpool Hornsby, Nepean, Newcastle, Wollongong, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga hospitals. NSW Health has also opened a mass vaccincation centre at Sydney Olympic Park.

How do I a book a vaccine?

To check your eligibility/book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination, visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker.

Australians are being urged to book in for a COVID-19 vaccine if they are eligible. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Australians are being urged to book in for a COVID-19 vaccine if they are eligible. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Is the Pfizer vaccine safe for pregnant women?

Women should be offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, or while breast-feeding, according to new advice from the government's vaccine advisory body, and the association for obstetricians.

Pregnant women were encouraged to discuss the timing of their vaccination with their healthcare professional, and women who were trying to become pregnant didn't need to delay vaccination, or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination.

The College of Obstetricians said there was no evidence COVID-19 increased the risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities, but there was the possibility that the virus could transfer from a pregnant woman to the baby and increase the likelihood of a premature birth in the third trimester.

What should you expect at the appointment?

Most jurisdictions require residents to book in for a vaccine at either a general practitioner or a dedicated COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Vaccination is free and voluntary for everyone.

Once the vaccine is administered you must remain at the clinic for observation for at least 15 minutes.

Depending on your medical history you might be asked to wait longer, about 30 minutes.

How long do you have to wait between your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine?

It is recommended that people wait at least 14 days between a dose of seasonal flu vaccine and a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Which vaccines may become available?

The Australian government has entered into agreements for two other vaccines which haven't yet been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration - Novavax and Moderna.

Novavax is currently being evaluated by the TGA. The federal government expected 51 million doses would be available if it was approved later this year.

Moderna is currently in phase three clinical trials.

The federal government expected 25 million doses of the vaccine would be available including 15 million doses of a "variant-specific" version, should it be approved.