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How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine as an older person?

Older people were quickly identified as a priority group for the COVID-19 rollout in Australia after studies found that people over 50 had the worst symptoms and mortality rates compared to any other age group.  All people over the age of 40 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia, but there is still confusion around how to get the vaccine, where to go, and what you are meant to do.

Key points:

  • Vaccinations of aged care residents is managed by the Federal Government and vaccine administrators will come to you

  • If you live in the community, your local doctor's clinic may be providing COVID-19 vaccinations

  • You need to continue social distancing and personal hygiene recommendations even if you have been vaccinated

Older person getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Before and after your COVID-19 vaccine appointment, remember to keep up hand hygiene and social distancing. [Source: Shutterstock]

What vaccine will I get?

There are two vaccines currently available in Australia, but if you are over the age of 60 you will most likely receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

For the moment, Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for anyone under the age of 60 after blood clot concerns in younger people who received AstraZeneca. The rate of blood clots in people under 60 is one in 88,000, which is a low rate compared to other well-used and well-known prescription drugs.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered safe by the Federal Government for older people and is still safe for a lot of younger people. The Government is just putting precautionary measures in place for people under 60 year olds.

Getting a vaccine in aged care

The Federal Government has visited most facilities in Australia to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents, first and second doses. However, if you are still waiting, there are a few things your provider will be doing to prepare you for when it happens.

Your aged care facility will obtain your consent about getting the vaccine ahead of the vaccine administrators coming to the site.

Even though you will be getting a first dose now and a second dose in a number of weeks time, they will collect your consent for both doses at the same time. Keep in mind that you can retract your consent for the vaccine at any point, even if you have already had the first dose.

Your provider will pass your record of consent on to the relevant vaccine administrators.

Additionally, you can and should talk to your doctor about the COVID-19 vaccine before you consent to it. 

A discussion with your doctor should clear up any concerns you have around the COVID-19 vaccine, help inform your decision around getting the vaccine and the impact it will have on your health, and make your facility, yourself and doctor aware of any medication that may interact with the vaccine.

I live at home, what do I do?

There are several ways to access the COVID-19 vaccine. You can contact your local GP clinic or doctor's surgery to book an appointment. They will be able to give you an easy, straightforward answer about whether you are eligible for the vaccine, and then book you in for an appointment.

Otherwise, the Government's online portal can help you find out if you are eligible and show you what places are providing vaccination appointments near you. Visit the Vaccine Eligibility Checker website and follow the prompts.

Where can I get the vaccine?

Besides your aged care facility or your local doctor's clinic, there are many places you can book in for a COVID-19 vaccination.

The Federal Government has rolled out a number of massive vaccination hubs across each State and Territory, and are still unveiling new vaccination clinics for people to visit.

Additionally, each State and Territory may be spearheading their own vaccination clinics in a bid to assist the Federal vaccine rollout.

Otherwise, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services and some State and Territory pharmacies are providing COVID-19 vaccinations. 

If there are no available appointments in your area, the Government recommends checking the Vaccine Clinic Finder once a week for updated appointment times and new clinics.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all Australians, you should not be charged for the vaccine no matter where you go to get it. However, if you do get charged, contact the Providers Benefits Integrity Hotline on 1800 314 808 (9 am to 5 pm AEST weekdays) or email provider.benefits.integrity@health.gov.au.

What to bring

You need to make sure you bring the right document to your vaccination appointment so you can get your vaccine. 

You should bring (if you have it):

  • Medicare card (if you don't have Medicare, bring your ID)

  • Photo ID

  • Employee ID, if you are eligible due to your occupation

  • Information about medical conditions, such as allergies, if you are immunocompromised, or have a bleeding disorder

  • Information about your medications

  • Information on your last COVID-19 vaccine (if you have had your first dose), such as the brand of vaccine and the date of administration

  • Past vaccine reactions

  • Information on current GP and any other doctors

  • If you require it, you can bring a support person, like a family member, carer, friend or support worker

  • You may be asked to wear a mask to your vaccination appointment depending on where you are located.

When you are at your appointment, you will need to fill out a COVID-19 vaccination consent form. You can view the consent form on the Government Health Department website.

Side effects of the vaccine

Just like other vaccines, you may experience side effects. This is completely normal as your body is adjusting and learning from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Common side effects include:

  • Pain on and around the injection site plus any redness or swelling

  • Fever

  • Muscle aches and pains

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Chills

  • Nausea

These symptoms are usually mild, flu-like, and should only last a few days.

The AstraZeneca vaccine usually has symptoms after the first dose, compared to the second dose. 

Whereas the Pfizer vaccine has a stronger second dose, so symptoms are more likely on the second dose rather than the first dose.

Side effects that you should seek medical assistance for include:

  • Allergic reaction symptoms, like swelling in the face, lips, tongue or other body parts, or shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Swelling in the leg or pain in the arm or leg

  • Persistent belly pain

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • A rash, itching or hives

  • Severe or persistent blurred vision or headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Tiny blood spots around the injection area and under the skin

  • Any reaction that seems severe or is not expected

  • If you are concerned about how you are going after the vaccination

​The next appointment

After your first vaccine dose, you will need to get the second follow-up dose to get the full effect of the vaccine.

For people that received the Pfizer vaccine, the second dose needs to be given 21 days apart at a minimum.

If you have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is a longer wait, with the second dose being provided after 12 weeks.

The Government recently changed the age group for the AstraZeneca vaccine to 60 and over, however, if you have already had the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine the Government still strongly recommends you get the second AstraZeneca dose.

Before and after your vaccine appointment, remember to keep up hand hygiene and social distancing.

If you still have questions that haven't been answered, call the National Coronavirus and COVID-19 Vaccine Helpline on 1800 020 080.

Do you have any more questions about the COVID-19 vaccination process? Ask us a question in the comments below and we will find out for you!

Related content:

Importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine as an older person
Mythbusting misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine
Everything you need to know about coronavirus

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