I’m Dr Preeya Alexander, and I’m a Melbourne GP working on the frontline as case numbers increase.
I’m seeing all my normal patients throughout lockdown for their cervical cancer screening tests, sleep issues, mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, sore knees and headaches (yes, all the normal health issues continue despite the pandemic).
On top of all that, I’m also one of the many (many) GPs and healthcare professionals vaccinating Australians against COVID-19.
I spend a lot of my time in the clinic (and on social media) trying to help people break down all the “stuff” out there around COVID-19 vaccination.
What I want people to know is that vaccines do reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 and if you do contract it (because like most things in life, these vaccines are not 100 per cent effective at protecting from COVID-19 but by golly, they reduce the risk), you have a significantly reduced risk of severe disease, hospitalisation, and death due to COVID-19 after two doses.
While vaccination against COVID-19 brings big benefits to the individual, it also has advantages for the community generally – the more of us that are vaccinated the harder it is for COVID-19 to spread, AND we protect the healthcare system, stopping it from becoming inundated and overwhelmed.
We’re so lucky in Australia to have an amazing healthcare system with incredible public hospitals, but I’m terrified of what’ll happen to the system if we have high case numbers with a low percentage of the population vaccinated.
Hospital beds are not infinite; we have a set number. The healthcare system in Australia is not invincible – despite the impression it may give.
I find people often forget that hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators are not just for patients with COVID-19 – we need those beds for people who are in car accidents, women who have complications during childbirth and the patient who suffers from a ruptured appendix or a heart attack. That could be any of us: our mothers, our best friends.
There are five questions I’m frequently asked about the vaccine:
1. Will the vaccines cause me to get COVID-19?
No is the short answer. None of the vaccines against COVID-19 are live and so they can’t “give you” COVID-19. They also won’t cause you to test positive for COVID-19 on a nasal swab – which is the main way we diagnose COVID-19. There are all sorts of myths floating around about this and sadly this misinformation is doing a lot of damage.
2. Is there a good vaccine and a bad one? Is there a better one and a not so good one?
What I really want everyone to know is all the vaccines currently available in Australia against COVID-19 are good, amazing, spectacular. Sadly, there’s been a lot of discussion about AstraZeneca in the media that hasn’t always been balanced and it’s generated a lot of anxiety (I was vaccinated with AstraZeneca when it was made available to me, as was my mother FYI).
There are three vaccines available in Australia: Pfizer, AstraZeneca and now Moderna, which is being rolled out through pharmacies as we speak. All the vaccines are effective at reducing your risk of contracting COVID-19, but their MAIN awesomeness lies in the fact that if you do contract COVID-19 after two doses, you have significant protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death from coronavirus.
If you want to know more about the vaccines and their side effects and which one might be best for you – chat to your GP or pharmacist.
3. I’m pregnant – why should I get vaccinated?
The recommendation in Australia from peak medical bodies is that all pregnant women should be offered vaccination against COVID-19.
Pregnant women are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its complications due to changes that happen to the body in pregnancy.
Pregnant women are a high-risk group when it comes to COVID-19, and vaccination not only protects Mum but your baby too. If Mum is really sick in pregnancy, it can impact the baby and if Mum is vaccinated, she passes on her amazing antibodies (the things the immune system makes when you are vaccinated) to the baby through the placenta so the baby is thought to have some protection against COVID-19 when born (which when you think about it, is amazing!).
It’s REALLY important to point out that the vaccine contents themselves do not pass through the placenta to the baby – the vaccine contents don’t actually hang around in the body.
4. What about the long-term side effects of these vaccines? Do we know this stuff?
These vaccines have been rigorously tested. Yes, they were developed rapidly but we’re living through a pandemic and the world threw all the money, scientists and labs at this and we had quick development of some amazing vaccines.
It’s important to point out that all the normal safety checks occurred before these vaccines were used.
Like anything in medicine there are potential side effects to vaccines (FYI there are potential side effects like gastritis from the Ibuprofen you might take for a headache) but we know that with any vaccine you are most likely to get immediate reactions like anaphylaxis in the 15-30 minutes after vaccination (that’s why after any vaccine is administered we ask you to hang around for 15 minutes of observation after).
In the days after, there are common side effects that can occur after the COVID-19 vaccines; the most common are things like a sore arm or fatigue. There are rare side effects that can occur, but we know what these are, and we continue to collect information and monitor them.
I know this is a long-winded answer but let me break down the long-term side effect stuff – all the vaccines we’ve given through the years (and continue to give) against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, hepatitis B etc don’t tend to have side effects that crop up after the six-to-eight week mark post vaccination.
If things are going to crop up – they declare themselves before the two-month mark. These COVID-19 vaccines are no different.
Don’t forget that more than four billion COVID-19 vaccines have been given around the world, and many of them were more than two months ago. Ongoing data collection and monitoring is continuing as an added level of reassurance!
5. I’m young and fit – COVID-19 won’t kill me, why should I get vaccinated?
Let me clear this one up for you – firstly, even if you are young, fit and awesome, you are still vulnerable to COVID-19 and its complications.
Particularly with the new variants we’re seeing more young people end up in our hospitals. You being vaccinated protects you, but it also protects those around you – if you’re vaccinated you’re less likely to contract COVID-19 and if you’re less likely to contract something, you’re less likely to pass it on to other people.
This was big reason as to why my husband and I were vaccinated the moment it was offered to us – we’re both doctors and knew us being vaccinated reduced the risk we would bring COVID-19 home to our kids, to our loved ones or pass it onto our patients.
So, if you’re young and awesome – vaccination has loads of benefits not just for you but for those around you too.
As I said earlier – if more of us are vaccinated – regardless of how well we are or our age, we reduce the numbers of people with severe disease who require hospital beds and ventilators – and so we also protect our health care system.
Next, we hear from Pharmacist Edward Tanzil.
I’m a Pharmacist on the ground in Sydney – I’m serving all my normal patients and customers throughout the pandemic, dispensing their regular medications from blood pressure tablets through to antibiotics. I’m assisting with asthma management plans and organising medication delivery for our sick and elderly customers.
In addition to this, I’m one of many local community Pharmacists and healthcare professionals vaccinating my patients against COVID-19.
Vaccinating against COVID-19 keeps individuals and our community safer and I’m extremely passionate about playing a role in keeping my local community healthy and safe.
Here are the frequently asked questions I’m getting about COVID-19 vaccination in the pharmacy:
1. I’m worried about the side effects of the vaccines against COVID-19. How bad are they and what should I expect?
I’ve had this question before in the pharmacy and not surprisingly, most people think that getting side effects from a vaccine is a bad thing. What I try to emphasise is that mild-to-moderate side effects after getting your jab is completely normal, and not something to worry about.
Side effects can range from night sweats to chills and exhaustion the next day. You’re also likely to have a bit of a sore arm and localised redness – this is absolutely normal.
In terms of duration of side effects, it varies from patient to patient with some experiencing them for longer than others and some barely at all.
Side effects might last anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.
2. What is the new Moderna vaccine and is it better than Pfizer?
After several media reports about Moderna arriving in pharmacies across Australia this week, my patients have been asking lots of questions about this new COVID-19 vaccine and how it compares to the likes of Pfizer and AstraZenca.
I don’t like to get caught in the comparison debate about vaccines with my patients, as they are ALL incredible. Like the Pfizer vaccine, Moderna uses mRNA technology and has incredible safety and efficacy data behind it, having been used extensively in the US, Europe, and across most parts of Asia to vaccinate against COVID-19.
Moderna has also been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in anyone over the age of 12 in Australia.
With the exciting addition of Moderna to our vaccine rollout, the most important thing I want everyone in our community to know is that we now have three incredible vaccines, all with well over 90 per cent protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. So please don’t get drawn into waiting for a specific vaccine.
Get whatever vaccine is available to you now, so when you’re double jabbed, you’ll be well protected, and your next exposure to COVID-19 and all its future variants will become far less serious.
3. I’ve got young kids, what can I do to protect them?
As a parent, getting yourself vaccinated is absolutely the single best thing you can do to protect your kids. It creates that added layer of protection around them and ensures the risk of you bringing it home from the workplace and community is significantly less.
4. My children are in high school, should I consider vaccination for them? Is it allowed and is it safe?
The guidelines about vaccination in children under 18 have been updated, which I know can cause some confusion about who can get vaccinated and with which vaccine. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has recently approved both mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) for use in children who are 12 years and older.
Both vaccines are incredibly safe and effective, and both are due to be readily available and free of charge.
Moderna vaccinations at Priceline Pharmacies will start taking place from Monday, September 20th. Check here to find your closest store doing vaccinations
If you’re in any doubt, or you simply have more questions about the vaccine for your child or yourself, please don’t hesitate to speak to your friendly Pharmacist. It’s what we’re here for.
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