COVID-19 vaccines – the facts
Bupa’s Director of Clinical Governance Dr Zoe Wainer breaks down the facts you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines.
With many Australians and New Zealanders now receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Zoe Wainer, Bupa's Director of Clinical Governance, helps us to understand how vaccines work.
"The aim of a vaccine is to stimulate our immune systems to defend us against a disease. This then equips our immune systems against the disease to help us either not get the disease in the first place, or have the ability to fight the disease better if we do get it, so that we experience less serious effects," Dr Wainer said.
"Vaccination will help you protect yourself and your community and may help reduce the effects of COVID-19 on people, as well as our healthcare system and society as a whole."
Vaccination is one of the ways to help protect the broader community from getting a disease or virus. When a large proportion of people in a community have been vaccinated, the level of immunity makes it much harder for the disease to spread from person to person. This is often referred to as ‘herd immunity’.
Unfortunately, there continues to be some misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines circulating in the community, so here are the facts.
COVID-19 vaccine facts
1. Getting the vaccine will reduce your chances of getting seriously ill with COVID-19
In line with government advice, Bupa recommends that people get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to them.
COVID-19 can cause serious health problems and can sometimes lead to death. For some people, even if they have a mild case of COVID-19, symptoms may linger or recur for weeks or months and could lead to ongoing complications with lasting health effects (sometimes referred to as “long COVID”).
2. It’s important you also get your annual flu vaccination for protection against circulating strains of influenza virus
The flu vaccine won't protect you against COVID-19 or vice versa as they're caused by different viruses. The current medical recommendation is to leave at least a 14-day gap between your flu vaccination and any doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
3. It's normal to get some side effects when you receive a vaccine, but these are usually mild-to-moderate and generally go away within 1-2 days.
The most common side effects are reactions at the site of injection (redness, pain and swelling). Other reported side effects can include fatigue, headache, fever/chills, muscle and joint aches.
Serious allergic reactions can occur but are extremely rare based on data from tens of millions of Astra Zeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech doses already given in the UK.
4. Bupa customers with hospital insurance will be covered for treatment of an adverse reaction.
Bupa Australia will cover customers who are admitted to hospital for the treatment of an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine provided their hospital insurance policy covers them for that treatment. This is the same principle that applies to any treatment, whether it is required because of an adverse reaction to a vaccine, medication, or is due to some other cause.
5. Current evidence shows the potential benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks for those aged 50 and older.
You may have heard in the media about a very rare, but serious, blood clotting side effect - unusual blood clots (thrombosis) accompanied by low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) - appearing 4 to 20 days after vaccination. Experts now agree that there is likely to be a causal link between this syndrome and the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. They stress that there is no evidence of a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and more common blood clotting problems such as deep vein thrombosis.
For people 50 years and above the potential benefits of vaccination will outweigh any potential risks, even in Australia where we currently live with low community transmission of COVID-19.
All people who have had one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and their healthcare professionals are asked to keep an eye out for symptoms of low blood platelets, especially four or more days after vaccination. It’s hoped that early detection and treatment may positively affect recovery and avoid serious complications.
Seek medical assistance immediately if you have any of the following symptoms after vaccination:
- shortness of breath.
- chest pain or persistent abdominal (belly) pain.
- swelling in the leg.
- blurred vision.
- confusion or seizures.
- new onset of severe and persistent headaches that does not respond to simple pain relievers.
- unexplained tiny blood spots under the skin or bruising beyond the site of injection.
6. You need to get two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Getting both doses of the same vaccine will provide optimal, longer-lasting protection.Find out more about AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and TTS from the Australian Government Department of Health information.
If you have the Astra Zeneca vaccine
If you have the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
You'll start to develop partial protection against COVID-19 within 21 days of the first dose.
You'll start to develop partial protection against COVID-19 as soon as 12 days after the first dose.
It's recommended you have at least 4 weeks between the first and second dose, although a longer gap – up to 12 weeks – is recommended for a greater immune response.
It's recommended you have at least 21 days between the two doses and complete the two-dose course within 6 weeks.
This information is accurate as of 25th May, 2021, and subject to change in accordance with any updated Government advice or information that becomes available.
Australian Government. Department of Health. Patient information sheet on AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) [Online] 10 Apr 2021 [Last updated 7 May 2021, accessed 21 May 2021] Available from: www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/patient-information-sheet-on-astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine-and-thrombosis-with-thrombocytopenia-syndrome-tts
Australian Government. Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). COVID-19 vaccine: AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-S [Online] 16 Feb 2021 [Last updated 26 Mar 2021, accessed 20 May 2021] Available from: www.tga.gov.au/covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca-chadox1-s
Australian Government. Department of Health. Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). COVID-19 vaccine: Pfizer Australia - COMIRNATY BNT162b2 (mRNA) [Online] 25 Jan 2021 [Last updated 26 Mar 2021, accessed 20 May 2021] Available from: www.tga.gov.au/covid-19-vaccine-pfizer-australia-comirnaty-bnt162b2-mrna
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Medsafe. Approval status of COVID vaccines applications received by Medsafe [Online; last updated 3 Mar 2021, accessed 20 May 2021] Available from: www.medsafe.govt.nz/COVID-19/status-of-applications.asp
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Vorsey M Costa Clemens S Madhi S et al. Single-dose administration and the influence of the timing of the booster dose on immunogenicity and efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine: a pooled analysis of four randomised trials. The Lancet. Published online February 19, 2021. doi: doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00432-3