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COVID-19 vaccines and what you should know

Last Updated at February 11th 2022
The COVID-19 vaccination rollout began in 2021 with older Australians in aged care and the community at the front of the queue.

Key points:

  • There are three vaccines currently used in Australia with a fourth vaccine soon to be made available
  • COVID-19 vaccines are not a cure for the virus, it improves and boosts your immunity to the virus
  • The vaccine is not mandatory for older people, however, it is mandatory for all aged care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19
Older woman getting vaccinated.
‚ÄčThe purpose of the COVID-19 vaccine is to teach your body how to recognise the COVID-19 virus as a threat. [Source: Shutterstock]

It was a huge step forward in terms of protecting older people in Australia against a virus that has had devastating impacts on older demographics around the world.

Currently, 93.7 percent of the Australian population aged over 16 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The vaccine has helped curb the spread and severity of COVID-19 throughout the country, however, we still aren't out of the clear yet, with booster shots now recommended for better protection against the virus.

Getting vaccinated, if you aren't, is important as the COVID-19 pandemic is still an ongoing issue in Australia.

Here is all you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines:

What vaccines are there?

Currently, Australia has four vaccines that are approved for use in Australia. This includes Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Novavax, and Moderna.

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for use for people aged 5 years and over, and two doses are provided between three to six weeks apart from each other for people 12 years and older.

The Moderna vaccine is available for people over the age of 12 and the two doses are provided four weeks apart.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for people aged over 18 years of age, however, it is recommended for people aged 60 and over or for people between the age of 18 to 59 if there is a current outbreak in their area.

With AstraZeneca, the two doses should be provided between four to 12 weeks apart.

The Novavax vaccine is approved for people over 18 years of age, the two doses of this vaccine are given three weeks apart from each other. While Novavax is approved, it is not yet available, but is expected to roll out in early 2022.

You cannot mix the brands of your two COVID-19 vaccine doses in Australia so whatever brand you get for your first dose will be the same for your second dose. This doesn't always apply for booster shots, which is explained in our article 'What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots'.

Pfizer and Moderna are the only brands that have been approved to be used as booster shots. However, in some circumstances, you can receive an AstraZeneca booster shot.

Do I need the booster shot?

The Government has accepted recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) which changes the fully vaccinated definition to include the booster shot.

If you want to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you will need to have a booster shot.

Fully vaccinated is also no longer a term used, instead, you will be considered as having an "up to date" vaccination status if you have all three shots.

To learn more about the booster shots, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

How do the vaccines work?

The purpose of the COVID-19 vaccine is to teach your body how to recognise a dangerous spike protein, like the COVID-19 virus, as a threat and then fight against these proteins.

There are different vaccines that use different ways of showing your body what to look out for.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA). This means that the vaccine has a genetic code that makes your body produce the spike protein found in the coronavirus, which your body then responds to.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is called a vector and utilises a weakened virus from an animal that has a similar spike protein to the coronavirus. When the vaccine enters your body, the vaccine encourages your body's cells to replicate the spike protein, which your immune system recognises as a threat and then reacts.

The Novavax vaccine is a protein-based vaccine - as it contains the spike protein found in the coronavirus - and it assists your immune system to recognise the threat and combat it.

None of the four vaccines approved in Australia have any live COVID-19 virus in them.

Am I immune straight away?

It's important to understand that the vaccine is not a cure for the COVID-19 virus.

Getting vaccinated improves your body's response to COVID-19 and you will have a higher level of protection against the virus.

After your first dose of the vaccine, you will have partial protection to COVID around 12 days after the initial jab. The second dose will allow your body to create an even stronger immunity to the virus. After the second dose, you should be fully protected against the virus between 7 to 14 days.

Booster shots are currently being rolled out around Australia to maintain the immunity of a fully vaccinated person.

Can I catch COVID still?

Yes, you still can catch COVID-19 even if you are partially or fully vaccinated.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not a cure for the virus, it improves your immunity and reduces the likelihood of you catching the virus. Additionally, you can still spread COVID-19 if you are vaccinated.

An important thing to note is that even if you catch COVID-19, being vaccinated can actually reduce the severity of the disease in your body, which is why it can be critical for older Australians to be vaccinated.

Studies have shown that the vaccine can reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms, reduce your likelihood of having severe symptoms, and reduce your likelihood of going to hospital.

Is it mandatory?

The COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for older Australians in the community or in aged care facilities.

However, if you work in an industry that aged care or disability care, it is mandatory to be vaccinated for work purposes. It may be mandatory for healthcare workers depending on your State or Territory requirements.

Older Australians are heavily encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine as it is the best way to protect themselves against the virus.

It is important you exercise your choice and control when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as understand the risks of not being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

To learn more about informed consent, read our article on the Aged Care Guide.

Where are the vaccines available?

Getting vaccinated is more accessible than ever.

Residents in aged care will be able to access vaccinations at their nursing home through in reach centres.

Whereas older people in the community have to visit Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics, pop-up hubs, State and Territory run clinics, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, and some community pharmacies. Visit the Vaccine Clinic Finder website to find a location near you. Alternatively, you can use health appointment booking services or the website of your local pharmacy to book a vaccination time. Or call up your local clinic to organise a vaccination time.

After vaccination

There are some side effects you may experience after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) says that most side effects are relatively mild and over half of the vaccine receivers had reported no side effects after getting vaccinated.

Some side effects can include a fever or flu like symptoms, muscle pain, headache, fatigue, and nausea. However, you shouldn't need to see a doctor about the side effects unless you experience a severe reaction.

See your doctor or go to hospital if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, belly pain, severe headaches, blood spots under the skin but not near the injection site, blurred vision, or swelling in the legs.

COVID-19 proof of vaccination

After every vaccine you have, your immunisation history will be updated on the national database. There are a number of ways you can get proof of vaccination if you need it.

You can access your digital certificate by logging into your myGov account and heading to your Medicare account, through the phone application - Express Plus Medicare, or by utilising the Individual Healthcare Identifier Service which you can access through myGov.

Once you have downloaded your COVID-19 vaccination certificate or your immunisation statement, you can add it to the relevant apps or print off your digital certificate/immunisation statement.

You can add your digital certificate to your phone's digital wallet to use at ease. This includes Google Pay, Apple Wallet, Express Plus Medicare app, or any State or Territory Check-In apps.

If you don't have a computer or are unable to access your online proof of vaccination, you can still access your proof certificate.

This includes asking your doctor to print off your immunisation statement or contacting the Australian Immunisation Register who can send you a COVID-19 certificate or your immunisation statement if you request it. You cannot get a copy of your statement or digital certificate from a vaccination hub.

*If you are considering getting the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your doctor first to ask any questions or concerns, and to have informed consent before getting the vaccine

What questions do you have about the COVID-19 vaccines? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots
Importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine as an older person
Mythbusting misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine
How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine as an older person?

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