COVID-19 Vaccine

Will SPMC be providing the COVID-19 vaccine, and if so, when?

SPMC has been approved to provide the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the national rollout strategy (participating from Phase 1b and onwards).

It is important to note that all GP practices have been invited to participate in running COVID-19 vaccinations clinics, however, not all centres will have the capacity to handle the large volume of people that this will involve.

We are expecting the government to outline our involvement in the national rollout in the next 1-2 weeks (date updated 25/02/21). As soon as we know further details, we will endeavour to communicate this information to our patients and the wider community as quickly and effectively as possible:

  • when you visit the practice
  • via our website and social media sites (Instagram and Facebook)
  • when you contact us by phone

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What does Phase 1(b) refer to and who will get the COVID vaccine first?

Australia’s national COVID vaccine rollout has been outlined to take place in three phases, with each phase having a stage (a) and (b) around 2-3 weeks apart.

Phase 1(a): quarantine and border workers, frontline at-risk health workers, residential aged care and disability staff, residential and disability care workers- available through hospital hubs in urban and rural areas

Phase 1(b): adults over 70, all other health workers (including GPs), ATSI people, younger adults with a medical condition, critical and high-risk workers such as police, fire and emergency service and meat processing workers- available through GP clinics

Phase 2(a): adults over 50, continuing on phase 1(b) with other high risk critical workers

Phase 2(b): balance of adult population and catch up of any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases

Phase 3: people under 18, if recommended

Why should I have the COVID-19 vaccine?

While it will not be mandatory to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it is worth considering the following benefits of COVID vaccination and vaccinations in general:

  • Vaccines have been proven to save lives (e.g. smallpox killed more than 300 million people during the 20th century before eradication due to vaccine development)
  • COVID vaccination may save your life, particularly if you fall into a high risk category
  • Rapidly developing evidence suggests that COVID vaccines will significantly reduce your risk of severe COVID infection, complications, hospitalisation and death
  • COVID vaccination may protect you from long term complications of COVID-19 infection
  • COVID vaccination will protect and support our health services, freeing up resources by reducing case numbers and preventing further backlogs for other important treatments and procedures
  • If enough people in the community are vaccinated, “herd immunity” will protect the vulnerable by reducing the spread of the virus

Will the COVID vaccine give me a COVID-19 infection?

No. The COVID-19 vaccines do not use a live virus and cannot cause a COVID-19 infection. However, it is possible that you may experience mild flu like symptoms for the first couple of days after receiving the vaccine as your body is developing an immune response.

Additionally, it is important to remember that it will take a few weeks for your body to build immunity after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, it is possible that you could become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or after being vaccinated.

Which COVID vaccines will Australians be receiving?

Currently, the Australian government has entered into agreements to purchase three COVID-19 vaccines:

Pfizer/BioNTech:

  • mRNA based vaccine (new technology)
  • (-) minus 70C storage (ultra-cold)
  • Phase 1(a) rollout
  • Can be given to people 16 years and over
  • Requires 2 doses (3 weeks apart)
  • Provisional approval by TGA

University of Oxford/ AstraZeneca:

  • Viral vector vaccine (traditional technology)
  • 2-8C storage (fridge)
  • Phase 1(b) rollout and beyond
  • Can be given to people 18 years and over
  • Requires 2 doses (4-12 weeks apart but 12 weeks is optimal)
  • Provisional approval by TGA
  • Capacity to manufacture in Australia (CSL)

Novavax:

  • Protein vaccine
  • 2-8C storage (fridge)
  • Not known when will be available
  • Can be given to people 18 years and over
  • Requires 2 doses (3 weeks apart)
  • TGA approval pending

Which COVID-19 vaccine will SPMC be providing and when?

Currently, it appears that SPMC will be providing the University of Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine as part of the Phase 1(b) rollout (and beyond), pending vaccine availability.

At this point, it is not known if general practices will be providing Novavax, although it appears that clinics will only be able to provide one brand of COVID-19 vaccine at a time.

Phase 1(b) rollout is expected to commence in March 2021.

Which vaccine will I be given and am I able to choose which one I receive?

The vaccine that you are given will be largely determined by the category you fall into (phases detailed above), subsequently, it is not expected that you will be able to choose the vaccine you receive or be able to pay an additional cost to receive a different vaccine.

Most people in the community will not receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, delivered in Phase 1(a).

It is most likely that SPMC will be able to offer you the Oxford University/ AstraZeneca vaccine. This vaccine appears to give excellent protection and is likely to be the next vaccine rolled out to the wider community.

The Oxford University/ AstraZeneca vaccine is entirely different to the Pfizer vaccine, is based off existing technology (traditional vaccine technology) and is expected to be produced in Australia (providing consistent supply of vaccine to ensure effective national immunisation rates).

As previously mentioned, it is anticipated that Novavax will be provided at some stage of the rollout, pending TGA approval and availability.

How do I book in for my COVID vaccine? Will the practice let me know when they are receiving supply?

Based on current information it appears that you will be able to contact us directly (by phone) to book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

Additionally, we expect to have an online booking system available for COVID vaccinations in time for the general practice rollout, however we are still awaiting further information from government and clinical software organisations before we can confirm availability of this service.

If possible, online bookings for COVID vaccinations will be available through:

Additionally, the government will establish an online National Booking System (NBS) for the COVID rollout.

The NBS will include:

  • An eligibility checker that the public and clinicians can use to determine if a person is in a priority population group.
  • A listing of authorised vaccination clinics along with opening hours, contact details and a link to their online booking systems (if available).

It is not known at this stage whether you will be able to make a direct booking through the NBS or if you will be redirected to our booking system.

We are expecting to receive clarification regarding COVID vaccine booking procedures and supply over the next 1-2 weeks. Subsequently, we will endeavour to communicate this information to our patients as quickly and effectively as possible (website/ social media/ when you visit the surgery/ when you contact us). It is also expected that the government will make this information readily available via press conferences and mainstream media outlets (TV/ radio/ social media).

Can I request my usual GP to administer the COVID vaccine?

To be able to vaccinate and safely monitor the potentially large volume of people that will require this service, COVID vaccines will be administered via a stand-alone vaccination clinic (with rotating medical staff).

As our GPs will also continue to provide regular (non-vaccination) appointments for their patients, it is possible that your GP may not be available to administer the COVID vaccine for your specific appointment time.

We will of course try to provide you with a specific GP if requested, however, please be reassured that all medical staff (GPs and nursing staff) involved in our vaccination clinics are highly trained professionals, skilled in providing vaccines and post vaccination monitoring.

Furthermore, all clinical staff will undertake additional COVID-19 vaccine training prior to providing COVID vaccines to patients.

Can I see my GP for a regular appointment when I receive the vaccine?

To be able to vaccinate and safely monitor the potentially large volume of people that will require the service, COVID vaccines will be administered via a stand-alone vaccination clinic (with rotating medical staff).

During this period, the practice will continue to provide regular (non-vaccination) appointments, however, there may be slight changes to your GP’s normal availability due to involvement in the vaccination clinic.

Your GP will not be able to provide you with a COVID vaccine as part of a regular appointment.

Once COVID-19 vaccination clinics commence, our reception staff will be able to advise you when your GP is available for vaccination and/or regular appointments. You will be allowed to book a vaccination and regular appointment on the same day, however appointments will be subject to doctor availability.

The practice may review this policy as the rollout progresses.

Will there be a cost associated with receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?

No. A COVID-19 appointment (vaccine and consultation) at SPMC will be bulk billed (no out of pocket expense) as per federal government regulations.

Will it be mandatory to have the COVID-19 vaccine?

No. The vaccine will be voluntary for all Australians, although some workplaces are considering mandatory vaccination for their employees (if unsure, speak to your employer).

If you are unsure about receiving a COVID vaccine we would recommend that you:

  • ask yourself what you are concerned about
  • make a list of your questions and concerns
  • speak with your GP to assist in the decision making process

Our GPs understand there will be some degree of COVID vaccine hesitancy. Please feel comfortable to discuss these concerns in a non-judgmental environment with our doctors at SPMC.

If the Pfizer vaccine has been granted approval for use, why aren't all Australians receiving it?

Due to primarily external factors, the government has been unable to secure enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine to cover the COVID vaccination needs of the entire Australian population. As a result, at least initially, only people who fall into the Phase 1(a) category will receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Moreover, the government has entered into agreements with additional vaccine providers to ensure the ongoing supply of safe and effective COVID vaccines for all Australians.

I have heard that some COVID-19 vaccines have a higher efficacy rate than others (in particular, that the Pfizer vaccine is more efficacious than the AstraZeneca vaccine). Will my vaccine be effective?

All COVID-19 vaccines that Australians will receive are very effective in preventing severe COVID disease, hospitalisation and death (90% Pfizer and 100% AstraZeneca and Novavax).

However, to fully answer this question, and clarify information recently distributed through mainstream media, it is important to understand the difference between vaccine efficacy and vaccine effectiveness.

Vaccine efficacy is the degree to which a vaccine prevents disease, and possibly also transmission, under ideal and controlled circumstances (e.g. in a randomised controlled trial).

Therefore, a vaccine with an efficacy of 95% in a trial, for instance, means there was a 95% reduction in cases of disease in the vaccinated group compared to the unvaccinated (or placebo) group.

(Note: recent media reports regarding results of COVID vaccine trials are usually referring to vaccine efficacy).

Vaccine effectiveness meanwhile refers to how well the vaccine performs in the real world.

Importantly, vaccine efficacy in laboratory conditions does not always translate to effectiveness, and so an efficacy trial can over or underestimate a vaccine’s impact in the real world.

The current efficacy and effectiveness rates of the COVID vaccines that Australians will receive are:

  • Pfizer- 95% efficacy + 90% effectiveness
  • AstraZeneca- 70% average efficacy (one trial was 92%)  + 100% effectiveness
  • Novavax- 95.6% efficacy + 100% effectiveness

Therefore, so far, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been 100% effective in preventing people from developing severe COVID infection, hospitalisation and death, despite having a 70% efficacy rate on average).

It is also important to note that the effectiveness of the annual influenza vaccine ranges between 40-60% yet saves thousands of lives each year.

To summarise, current evidence suggests that all COVID vaccines are very effective in providing protection from severe COVID disease and death, which is why they are high on the list of vaccine candidates for Australians.

How safe are the COVID-19 vaccines? It feels as if there has been a rush to bring these to market.

Australia’s drugs and vaccination safety watchdog, also known as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia has some of the highest standards in the world for screening new treatments.

This means that we do not just accept the information from other nations unless they uphold similar high standards and even then, the TGA puts all medicines through our own screening process.

Importantly, our prime minister has unapologetically confirmed that our strict and stringent drug approval process has contributed to delays in getting COVID vaccines to the market in Australia.

Moreover, as Australia has managed the spread of COVID infection extraordinarily well so far during the pandemic (particularly compared to many other developed countries like the UK and USA), it has placed us in the enviable position where there is less urgency to rush or fast track the approval process. This additional time also allows the TGA to observe and analyse the preliminary safety data (side effects and reactions) filtering through from countries that have already administered large volumes of the vaccine.

Despite these safeguards and assurances, it is perfectly normal to have some concerns. Please feel comfortable to discuss these concerns in a non-judgmental environment with our doctors at SPMC.

What side effects can I expect after having the vaccine?

So far, the more common side effects experienced from the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are mild and vary from local redness, swelling and sore arm to mild flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, tiredness, and headache).

These side effects should go away in a few days and reports from both the UK and the USA seem to list symptoms that are quite mild.

The best place to find the latest information is the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website and the UK’s public health page, as these countries have already administered millions of COVID vaccine doses.

Please feel comfortable to discuss concerns or questions you may have about COVID vaccine side effects with an SPMC doctor.

What is the risk of having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a COVID vaccine?

The current data suggests that severe allergic reactions to COVID vaccines are exceedingly rare, although the rate is slighter higher than the influenza vaccine.

Currently, the CDC reports the rate of severe reaction to COVID vaccine in the US as 11.1 cases per million doses given. This compares to 1.3 cases per million doses of influenza vaccine given.

Importantly, nobody that has experienced a severe allergic reaction to a COVID vaccine has died.

If I have multiple allergic reactions to drugs and have previously reacted to vaccines, should I have the COVID vaccine?

If you have an immune condition or a history of a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines your GP will discuss these issues with you prior to administration to determine if you are suitable for vaccination. It does not necessarily mean that you cannot be vaccinated.

The US CDC has created a webpage “COVID-19 vaccines and allergic reactions” that outlines how to determine whether a person with previous allergic reactions should be vaccinated.

Is the COVID vaccine safe for pregnant women?

The COVID vaccines that Australians will receive have not been tested on pregnant and breast-feeding women in clinical trials, so currently there is insufficient information about their effects on pregnant women/ foetuses and infants.

Current advice recommends that administration of a COVID vaccine during pregnancy only be considered if:

  • the risk of contracting COVID-19 is high and cannot be avoided
  • underlying conditions may predispose the mother to serious complications of COVID-19

It is recommended that women who fall into the above groups discuss the option of COVID-19 vaccination with their GP, obstetrician and or midwife.  

What safety precautions will SPMC have in place to monitor and treat severe allergic reactions to the COVID vaccine?

  • Pre- vaccination screening to assess your risk of severe reaction and determine suitability for the vaccine
  • Highly skilled and trained medical staff that will monitor you after receiving the vaccine and are able to provide immediate assistance and treatment if required
  • Our practice has appropriate medications and equipment on hand to provide immediate treatment if required (e.g. adrenaline/ antihistamine/ oxygen/ blood pressure monitors)
  • Everybody that receives a COVID vaccine will be asked to remain at the practice for 15-30  minutes post vaccination to monitor for allergic reactions and side effects

How long will I have to wait at the surgery after receiving the vaccine?

To monitor for severe allergy and side effects, you will be asked to remain at the practice for a period post vaccination.

People who have had severe allergic reactions or who have had any type of immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy in the past will be monitored for at least 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

All other people will be monitored for at least 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

The vaccine needs to be given in two doses. What happens if I delay or miss my second dose?

Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines need to be delivered in 2 doses: Pfizer (3 weeks apart) and AstraZeneca (4-12 weeks apart but 12 weeks is optimal). A delay can affect their efficacy and make them less protective.

Therefore, it is very important that you receive your second dose.

You should get the second dose even if you have side effects after the first jab unless your GP specifically tells you not to get the second injection.

If you miss your second dose, this means you are not protected against the effects of COVID-19 if you become exposed.

If you are travelling, you will need to arrange for your second dose to be given elsewhere.

Each vaccination will be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register.

The UK has delayed the delivery of the second dose due to shortages. Australia is undertaking a mammoth exercise to ensure we do not experience similar delays with the second dose.

Will you provide me with a record of my COVID vaccination? Can I access my COVID vaccination record online?

As a vaccination provider we are required by Australian law to record all vaccinations on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).

We may also upload a record of your COVID vaccination to your My Health Record (included in a Shared Health Summary). If you have previously provided consent, you will receive an SMS/email from the government notifying you of the upload. If you do not wish for this to occur, please inform us before your vaccination.

Options to view and print your full immunisation history (including COVID-19 vaccination) include:

  • myGov (Your Services> Medicare> Immunisation History> View Statement)
  • Medicare online (will direct to myGov)
  • Medicare Express Plus app
  • My Health Record (will direct to myGov)

Please allow up to 48 hours for immunisation history to transfer to your myGov record

On request, the practice can provide you with an official record of the COVID vaccination you have received (please note that the document will include other vaccines you have received at SPMC). Please speak to your doctor or a member of our clinical team.

Should I still get my influenza vaccine this year and when?

Yes, you should still get your annual Influenza vaccination to protect you from getting the flu and the potentially serious complications that can occur from infection.

Currently, it is advised that the two vaccines (COVID and Influenza) are spaced at least two weeks apart to ensure maximal immune response to both vaccines.

This may involve either:

  • Option 1– receiving the flu vaccine at least 2 weeks before your first COVID vaccine (preferred option if receiving COVID vaccine at a later stage of the rollout)
  • Option 2– receiving the flu vaccine at least 2 weeks after your first, and at least 2 weeks before your second COVID vaccine (preferred option if receiving COVID vaccine at an earlier stage of the rollout)

It is expected that influenza vaccination bookings will be made by contacting reception.

Please feel comfortable to discuss a vaccination plan with your GP and clinical staff to ensure protection from both COVID-19 and influenza.

Will having the vaccine mean that we can stop social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing?

Not yet! The vaccination program will take time, as it will occur in phases while the supplies of vaccine become available.

It is also believed that the COVID-19 vaccines may not prevent the spread of COVID-19 between people who are carrying the virus silently but are not showing symptoms. Therefore, social distancing and precautionary measures will need to continue until we get the spread of the disease under control.

Useful Resources:

COVID-19 vaccines- Australian Government Department of Health (https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines)

Disclaimer:

Information about COVID-19 vaccines/vaccination/ vaccination clinics is rapidly evolving and changing.

The information provided in the FAQ is based on the best current knowledge at the time of compiling and will be regularly updated as new information is received.

The information provided in the FAQ is not intended to be a substitute for a detailed discussion of COVID-19 vaccination related issues with your doctor or medical staff.

The information contained in the Q&A is not to be copied without the express permission of SPMC directors and management.

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