Can I choose what vaccine I get? What if I have allergies?

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Marc Pellegrini, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Australia’s keenly awaited COVID vaccine rollout begins today, with the ultimate goal of vaccinating all Australians by October.

Here are the answers to some key questions.

Can I choose which vaccine I get?

No, there won’t be a choice for the average person. The current initial rollout of the Pfizer vaccine isn’t enough doses to vaccinate all of Australia. So the first people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine will be frontline healthcare workers, including aged care and hotel quarantine officers.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will be produced for the general public. It’s hoped that will be rolled out during March.

I can’t say how the logistics will run – that’s up to the government, presumably on a state-by-state basis. Most likely they will try to prioritise the highest-risk groups such as the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.

For most people it will be a case of waiting for further announcements as to when enough vaccine is available and it’s appropriate to make an appointment. Children are unlikely to be included in the vaccination program.

Infographic on COVID vaccine rollout

The Conversation, CC BY

How will I be monitored for side-effects?

As doctors, when we vaccinate people we generally like to look after them for about 15-30 minutes, just to check they haven’t had an adverse reaction. That should be the practice for the COVID jab, just the same as for any vaccine.

For those 15-30 minutes you will generally just be sitting in a waiting area at the clinic. You will be monitored to see if you develop any symptoms such as hives or a rash, or wheezing. In those cases you would be monitored even more carefully and staff would take your blood pressure and pulse rate.

If you experience any symptoms once you’ve gone home, it would be up to you to contact your local doctor. Obviously, when trying to vaccinate 25 million people, health authorities can’t follow up with every individual. It’s very much up to them to follow up with whoever gave them the vaccine – whether their GP clinic or other health service.

Should I still have the vaccine if I have an allergy?

That needs to be a conversation between individuals and their doctor, who can advise on a case-by-case basis. But, generally speaking, there are no common allergies that should stop you having a COVID vaccine. If someone has a peanut allergy they can have the vaccine, and the same goes for shellfish, wheat, eggs or any other common allergies.

Some people are allergic to an ingredient called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which is found in more than 1000 different medications and is used in the Pfizer vaccine as a mechanism to help deliver the viral mRNA (genetic material) into your cells. In the US and UK vaccine rollouts, a very small proportion of people seemed to have an allergy to this compound: with a million doses you might see about 10 people have this allergic reaction. It is rare, albeit less rare than allergic reactions to influenza vaccines.

But no-one has yet died from being vaccinated against COVID, so these cases are being captured effectively and are generally detected within the initial observation period of 15-30 minutes. Severe reactions can be treated with an epipen; less severe cases are just monitored.

People might already know they’re allergic to PEG and they shouldn’t receive the Pfizer vaccine, but if they don’t know, there’s no way of knowing that in advance.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t contain PEG. It contains a related compound called polysorbate, which appears not to trigger the same allergy. If you have a known allergy to PEG you would probably be given the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It’s important to stress that these compounds are not preservatives – they are mechanisms to deliver the vaccines effectively.

Will I be fully protected? Do I still need to follow COVID restrictions?

The two vaccines have different efficacy rates – 95 per cent for Pfizer, 62 per cent for AstraZeneca – but these refer to their ability to prevent infection rather than disease. The fact is both are very good at preventing serious disease.

This means that, although you may still have a chance of being infected, you are much less likely to develop severe symptoms, and therefore less likely to infect others. Someone with severe COVID might be coughing and spluttering and spreading the virus more easily, while someone without symptoms might not.

Bear in mind there are two main reasons for the vaccine rollout. The first is to protect members of the public from getting very ill or dying.

The second aim is to provide a degree of immunity in the general population that will ultimately stop the virus circulating.

Of course, this second goal is much harder, which is why it’s still important that we follow any and all COVID precautions. But the hope is that over time we’ll see fewer and fewer people who are COVID-positive, and the risk of spread will fall.

Federal government information on the vaccine rollout.

Will the vaccine last forever or will I need to be revaccinated in future?

The current COVID vaccines require two doses, several weeks apart. It’s very tricky to say how long the resulting immunity will last, because globally we have only had these vaccines in use since December or so. It’s possible the immunity might last a year or longer, but at the moment it’s unclear. People might well have to be revaccinated at some stage.

We’ll start to get that data soon though. In fact we should have plenty more information by the time the AstraZeneca vaccine starts to be administered in high numbers in Australia around June or July.

Will the vaccines work against mutant coronavirus strains?

In the fullness of time I expect we’ll start to see “escaped mutant” variants of the coronavirus that can evade the vaccine or make it less effective.

To an extent that’s happened already – the AstraZeneca vaccine looks to be less effective against the South African variant than against the other current variants. Having said that, although it’s not as effective at preventing infection, it still probably has a good chance of stopping you getting seriously sick.

Because we’re not vaccinating everyone in the world, there will always be a pool of people who can incubate new viral strains, potentially giving rise to new mutant variants.

There’s no doubt the vaccines will need to be updated from time to time to deal with this.

Thankfully this process will be relatively straightforward. mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s can be tweaked very quickly – virtually overnight – to accommodate new mutants. It’s a bit trickier with non-mRNA vaccines such as the AstraZeneca and Chinese vaccines, but it can still be done.

Will the vaccine rollout mean no more lockdowns?

The vaccine rollout should give us a much firmer handle on the spread of the virus. We can hope to stop seeing hotel quarantine workers being infected and spreading the virus outside, which is what has prompted the recent snap lockdowns in various Australian cities.

As for whether we’ll ever find ourselves in lockdown again, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But if we’re still persisting with hotel quarantine and hosting arrivals from overseas, the vaccine program will hopefully mean we can afford to be much more liberal with opening our borders without fear that the virus will run rife.

The Conversation

Marc Pellegrini, Researcher, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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Written by The Conversation


Total Comments: 20
  1. 5

    “The two vaccines have different efficacy rates – 95 per cent for Pfizer, 62 per cent for AstraZeneca ”

    I suppose it is too much to ask that accuracy in reporting on these vaccines is adhered to. The AstraZeneca vaccine has an efficacy rate of over 82% after both doses given 12 weeks apart. The TGA has also recommended this 12 week gap between doses.

    • 4

      Not enough information for me to be properly informed so I can legally give my consent.

    • 1

      Hi KSS. Yes accuracy. The AstraZeneca vaccine only has a single figure efficacy for over 65s, so tell it like it is. Don’t lull the ‘at risk’ elders in the community into a false sense of security. Even AstraZeneca recommends another vaccine for over 65s.

  2. 1

    I’m waiting until we get a vaccine in about 2023 instead of participating in this phase 3 trial of a maybe vaccine.

  3. 0

    I’ve read that herd immunity will not be achieved because of the poor efficacy rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Why bother at all then? If I get offered the AstraZeneca vaccine, I’ll refuse vaccination.

    • 1

      That’s selfish.

    • 1

      Because we mainly bought AstraZeneca before the testing was complete and we found that it was not the preferred vaccine for over 65s and over 16% of the Australian population falls into this category, so they get a vaccine with a single figure efficacy, but we give many others who would have a good efficacy rate with this vaccine the one that would have been better suited to the over 65s. Go figure. Of course it does make sense if you want to manage the number of older Australians down to solve the issue caused by politicians raiding the OAP funds.

    • 2

      Well you heard wrong. It has nothing to do with the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been proven to do exactly what it says it will do, prevent serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. It is 100% effective at effecting an immune response just like the Pfizer vaccine.

      In actual fact it could be up to 6 years to achieve herd immunity because that will not be achieved until the world is vaccinated and that simply won’t happen in a year. Failure to fully vaccinate in every country will lead to more and more mutations as the virus learns how to avoid the vaccines. And with people resuming overseas travel they are going to be more likely to come into contact with people who haven’t been vaccinated and who have contracted the virus. And just so you know. You need at least 90+% of a population to be vaccinated to effect herd immunity (although it does depend on the particular disease – it can be as high as 95%.) And whilst we are on the subject, there is no data that proves the vaccines prevent transmission. After all that’s not what they were designed to do. They will stop you developing serious illness if you do contract the virus but there is no data yet that suggests the vaccine prevents you infecting someone else!

      And if you don’t believe me, fine. Just consider this. Measles had been erradicated in Australia. Then in 2019 there were 286 cases (three times as many as in 2018) and 58% of cases acquired overseas. With the complacency of the non-vaccinators and internationa travel it was easy to lose the erradication that was hard won.

    • 0

      josijohns you may be interested in the data released from Scotland over the weekend just gone:

      Then tell me just how 12m people seem to disagree with your asertions.

  4. 2

    How can you say no one has died yet from being vaccinated against covid. What about Norway? and the others we do not hear about.

    Twenty-three people died in Norway within days of receiving their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, with 13 of those deaths — all nursing home patients — apparently related to the side effects of the shots, health officials said.

    Common reactions to the vaccine, including fever and nausea, “may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some frail patients,” Sigurd Hortemo, chief physician at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said in a Friday statement.

    All 13 were nursing home patients and at least 80 years old. While officials aren’t expressing serious concern, they are adjusting their guidance on who should receive the vaccine.

    The news comes just over a week after officials reported the deaths of just two nursing home residents after they received the Pfizer jab.

    More than 30,000 people in Norway have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the Scandinavian country since late last month, according to official figures.

    • 2

      Your choice. Don’t get it you are that concerned. I will be first in the queue. Cheers.

    • 3

      Cool story…..I read differently but obviously you won’t be interested.

      For others who maybe interested. Aged care facilities have elderly people, every week X number die, it’s sad but it’s a fact of life. For example there maybe 30,000 in aged care and every year around 1,500 die from old age or some condition that takes them.

      That means ON AVERAGE 30 die each week. So along comes the vaccine, 30,000 people have it and AS NORMAL, AS PER THE AVERAGE 30 people die. Suddenly it’s in the media that “30 people die after taking the vaccine”. No 30 died as per a normal week.

      You could also say 30,000 people had milk on their cereal this week and 30 died……..”Oh, look, the milk killed 30 people”.

      Normal, average mortality.

    • 2

      Pity you don’t look beyond the headlines. If you did you would know that the deaths in Norway plus a few in Germany were in very old, very frail people in nursing homes at the end of life. The only debate to have is whether the benefits of vaccinating people in this circumstance outweigh any potential risk of COVID-19. The TGA in approving the same vaccine has stated that the doctor must weigh up these considerations and it may be in the person’s best interest not to receive the vaccine so close to end of life.

      And for your information, the vaccine itself did not kill these people. The mild side effects were enough given the frailty of the people i.e. mild fever.

    • 1

      exactly right, my choice. go line up for it

  5. 2

    The first people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine will be frontline healthcare workers, including aged care and hotel quarantine officers. Question: Why did scomo get the shot? Pulling rank and queue jumping. That mongrel makes sure he gets the better vaccine. Scomo, shame on you!

    • 2

      Mel, Mel, Mel! Seriously! Get over yourself. Mr. Morison did NOT ‘pull rank’ or queue jump at all. For weeks people have been saying ‘vaccinate the politicians first to prove the vaccine is safe’. And that includes people on this forum. Well, Mr. Morrison was vaccinated and the vaccine is safe. That was his sole purpose in lining up yesterday with 19 others like the elderly woman who was first in line, a couple of soldiers, some front-line doctors and nurses and some quarantine workers.

      On the other hand, Ms. Berijiklian and Mr. Hunt will not be vaccinated until the AstraZeneca vaccine is released. And that too is safe as they will prove.

      And please divulge your epidemiology and viremia qualifications that allow you to make a statement about the efficacy value of one vaccine over the other.

    • 1

      Yes, and every other politician and a bunch of others who should have got the AstraZeneca vaccine. Shame on the all, but they don’t give a damn about the 16%+ who are over 65. Their actions show this.

    • 3

      queue jumping? One person? Come on be real, he’s the country’s leader, it’s a show of confidence in the vaccine so others will be encouraged to get it.

  6. 0

    KSS and Greg, The hierarchy of who gets the vaccine first is very clear (frontline healthcare workers, including aged care and hotel quarantine officers). No mentioning of PM, so he should wait for his turn.



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