COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know if You're Older or Living with a Disability

What does the COVID-19 vaccine actually do?

Like other vaccines, the COVID-19 immunisation trains your immune system to recognise and fight certain germs. The vaccine lowers your risk of developing COVID-19 if you come into contact with the virus.

Clinical trials have shown that the COVID-19 vaccine can:

  • Prevent you from developing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Reduce the severity of COVID-19 if you do still develop it.

How is the COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out in Australia?

Australia has started rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge undertaking that requires careful planning so the rollout is being done in phases, starting with those at the highest risk of encountering the virus or being severely affected by it.

 

Phase Eligibility
1a

Quarantine, border and front-line health,

aged care and disability staff and residents

1b

Adults over 80

Adults aged 70-79

Other healthcare workers

Begin vaccinating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Adults with a specified medical condition

Adults with a disability

Critical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing

2a

Adults aged 60-69

Adults aged 50-59

Continue vaccinating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults

Other critical and high-risk workers

2b

Balance of the adult population

Anyone missed in previous rounds

3 Under-16s if necessary

 

The Australian government oversees the process of selecting, buying and regulating the vaccines. Each state government then delivers the vaccine to its population.

When will I get my COVID-19 vaccine?

If you’re an Australian senior living in your own home (rather than in residential or aged care) or if you’re an Australian with a disability, you’ll be in group 1b. You can check your eligibility here.

The government hopes to have vaccinated every eligible Australian by October 2021. That’s ambitious and may take longer. Many factors may affect the rollout including the supply of vaccines, any new evidence about COVID-19, and any outbreaks which could delay the vaccination process.

Phases 1a and 1b are already underway.

Which vaccine will I get?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved two vaccines for use in Australia: the Pfizer vaccine and the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine.

People in group 1a will receive the Pfizer vaccine, which:

  • Needs special cold storage at -70℃
  • Needs 2 doses per person
  • Is 95% effective.

People in every other group (including seniors and people with disabilities) will receive the Astrazeneca vaccine, which:

  • Can be kept at a more manageable temperature of 4℃
  • Needs 2 doses per person
  • Is 70% effective
  • Can be manufactured locally, reducing dependence on buying stock from overseas.

Do I have to pay for my COVID-19 vaccine?

No, the government is making the COVID-19 vaccine available free of charge.

Do I still need the vaccine if I’ve actually had COVID-19?

Yes. If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, you’ll have some level of immunity to the virus. However, we don’t know how long that immunity lasts so it is recommended that you have the vaccine.

Are there any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?

All vaccines can cause minor side effects. The COVID-19 vaccine may cause mild side effects such as a low-grade fever, a headache, and pain or swelling at the injection site.

Very occasionally a more severe side effect can occur but this would happen very soon after your injection. As with other vaccines, you’ll be asked to wait 15 minutes before going home after your jab just so that there’s help nearby if you should happen to need it.

Do I have to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

No, the COVID-19 vaccine is not compulsory. You don’t have to have it – but health authorities strongly encourage you to protect yourself and other people by choosing to have the COVID-19 vaccination. If you’re hesitant about having the COVID-19 vaccine, then read this.

How can I be confident that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe?

Like other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine has been developed, tested and trialled according to rigorous international standards. Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have met the TGA’s robust regulatory requirements applied to every drug licensed for use in Australia.

It’s an amazing scientific achievement to have developed a vaccine against a new virus within 12 months. That’s been possible because:

  • COVID-19 is from a familiar family of coronaviruses so scientists could build on prior knowledge
  • Scientists had been working on a ‘virus X’ vaccine for many years in preparation for the next pandemic – they just needed to tweak this to COVID-19 once it emerged
  • Virtually unlimited funding was made available – a very different situation to the usual slow process of applying for one grant after another before research can move to its next stage
  • Clinical trial phases could run alongside each other rather than one after another
  • The COVID-19 vaccine was given top priority by regulatory agencies, rather than waiting its turn for approval.

Each of these factors has turned the usually slow process of vaccine development into a swift one. The speed has come from prior scientific knowledge, a flow of funding, and priority processing. It has not compromised safety but it’s certainly a far cry from the incremental process, drip-feed funding and administrative delays that often plague medical research.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been in the news lately with some countries suspending it due to concerns about blood clots in some recipients. It’s important to remember, though, that blood clots are very common. It does not mean they were caused by the vaccine. AstraZeneca states that there have been 37 cases of blood clots after more than 17 million vaccinations. That’s a minuscule percentage.

Australia remains confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine and has no plans to suspend its rollout. The TGA monitors for all adverse events relating to drugs and vaccines in Australia.

How will I know when it’s my turn?

The best things to do are to use the government’s COVID-19 eligibility checker and to keep an eye on the news and government advertising over the coming weeks. You can also ask your GP or caregivers.

People in group 1a (frontline workers and people in aged care) will be offered the vaccine either at their workplace or in their residential aged care home. If you’re in this group, you’ll know already.

If the eligibility checker shows that you’re in group 1b, you can now start to make plans for getting your vaccine. The checker will show you the options in your local area.

Be suspicious of anyone offering you the chance to register for the vaccine to skip the queue. Scammers have tricked people overseas into handing over personal information – we don’t want that to happen here.

Where will I get my vaccination?

There are several possibilities. Your own GP may offer it or you may be able to go to another local GP, respiratory clinic or possibly even a pharmacy.

You can use the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker to find out where you can get the vaccine. Once you’ve entered information about your age and health, the checker will ask for your postcode and then show you a list of places near you that offer the COVID vaccine.

Choose the place you prefer and make a booking. If they’ve already received supplies of the vaccine then you should be able to receive your jab fairly soon. If they’re still waiting for supplies to arrive then ask when you should call back to book.

What should I do while I wait for the vaccine?

It’s important that you continue to:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Stay home if you’re unwell
  • Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

How Focused Health Care can help

Focused Health Care is a registered provider of in-home aged care and NDIS services and is led by Registered Nurses. We’re in touch with the latest government guidance on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. If you’d like more information or if you’d like to learn more about in-home care, please contact us.

Disclaimer

All information is general in nature.

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