Finley general practitioner Alam Yoosuff, who also sits on the board of Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network and Murrumbidgee Local Health District as well as being the primary health director of MLHD, answers frequently asked vaccine questions.
His answers have been compiled by SOPHIE BOYD and edited for length and clarity.
Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The main reason, in simple terms, is COVID-19 is an infection which is raging through communities worldwide and causing lots of deaths and hospitalisations. The way to prevent it is to build an immunity against it and reduce all these bad after effects. The vaccine would be one of the best ways to do this.
We need the COVID vaccine to protect our community, protect our people, especially those who are vulnerable.
Was the vaccine rushed?
Has it been rushed? No. Is it 100 per cent completely new or out of the blue technology we're using? No. The technology has been used for lots of other various forms and trailed in humans even before COVID-19.
Given COVID-19 hit mankind this badly at once, the world was able to get together and make different development steps go in parallel. The world was able to utilise its preparedness for an unknown pandemic to come. All these MRNA vaccine platforms they had been trialling that technology for nearly ten years or more, it was already there. The technology was there ready to be used for an unknown pathogen or bad bug so we can attack.
The world and governments in the world, were able to pump in money into the vaccine development process so that companies didn't have to rely on finances and profit and viability, we took the risk by putting more money into the vaccine production. All in all we have produced vaccines at a record breaking time, but it is not rushed it has come quickly to us because we have the best possible technology, funding and commitment for it.
Is it safe?Will it have long term side effects we're not aware of?
To paraphrase Dr Anthony Fauci when this same question was asked of him at CNN, if a vaccine gets rolled out in a real life situation when millions of people are getting it and you don't see any really bad affects that are popping up within three to six months time it is impossible for us to see something really rare and bad popping up after that.
The vaccine we have is very safe. We have very good safety double check mechanisms like the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, like the medical agencies our government brought in, like WHO and the CDC. There are lots of medical agencies that are keeping the checks and balances right, so even if there is something like that popping up it doesn't go unnoticed. From the data we have to date we know one thing for sure, we have very safe and effective vaccines.
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Which vaccine will I get? Do I have a choice?
At this point in time Australians and many people in other places in the world will not have a choice in which vaccine they get. You will be offered a vaccine and you have the choice to have it or not have it. The vast majority of Australians will get the AstraZenaca Oxford vaccine because it is easy to store can be given at general practices, and not far away, by pharmacists.
What side effects can I expect after getting the vaccine?
In simple terms the side effects you could get from the COVID-19 vaccines are not any different to what you would have from a normal flu vaccine. Within the first two to three days you might have soreness in the area where you had the vaccine, a few people have had headaches, fever or felt feeling lethargic but they all disappear within two to three days time.
Do I need to get the vaccine if I'm not in a high-risk group and COVID likely won't kill me?
My advice is if it is offered to you and you are eligible within the current guidance to have a vaccine, you should have it because that is the best thing you can do to yourself as well as the whole community.
The answer comes because of a few underlying issues: number one we need the community to be immune as much as possible to protect our loved ones... that is called herd immunity, the more the community is immune and can challenge the virus the more we are protected in the long run.
Number two, the vast majority of the virus is circulating among the most healthy, non-vulnerable and fit people... but it is very difficult to separate the most vulnerable people from them - a mum who has diabetes, a dad who has heart problems, older family members. It's difficult to separate those people, that's why we saw all the outbreaks in Australia as well as other countries. So it is important if you are offered the vaccine, you have it.
How does the vaccine work? Will it give me a small dose of COVID-19?
The vaccine will not give you COVID, none of the vaccines we're using have a COVID-19 virus in them.
The vaccines are simulating or instructing our own cells to make a part of a protein like molecule which is called a spike protein in our body. By doing that our immune system recognises that spike protein and makes antibodies and remembers it and can stay on stand by in case the virus comes in, to knock it down.
That's a simple version of it, you will not get COVID-19. By having the vaccine you will not have a COVID-19 positive test, the vaccine is not a virus by itself it is genetic material which is instructing our body to make the spike protein inside our body.
How does the process work, will I need two vaccines?
If you are getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, once you have one dose you will have a second dose in three months time. If you get the Pfizer vaccine the ideal timing between doses is about three weeks.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine mean I don't need to get the flu vaccine? Can I get them at the same time?
At the moment the flu vaccine is in the market and you can have it. You can't have them at the same time, it has to be at least two weeks apart. You can have the flu vaccine first and then the first dose of the COVID vaccine or you could have the COVID vaccine first and then two weeks after have the flu vaccine.
The guidance of ATAGI is the COVID-19 vaccine should not be taken with any other vaccine at the same time. The COVID-19 vaccine is not going to cover you for influenza A and B.
Do I still need to socially distance or wear masks after I get the jab?
Vaccines are only one mechanism to protect us, by no means is the vaccine a bulletproof mechanism which means you can forget about social distancing, hand hygiene and all other measures, at least for some time.
It might change in time, it depends on how many people in the world get the vaccine and how the pandemic will progress.
If the vaccine won't prevent me from getting COVID-19, why should I get it?
By having the COVID-19 vaccine we know one thing for sure, 100 per cent of the time you won't die of COVID-19, almost 100 per cent of the time you will not get hospitalised, you will not need ICU admission.
No one has properly published on it yet hence we can't say definitively but the real life roll out in the UK, Israel and USA is showing that vaccines are actually preventing people getting COVID-19 virus completely. That means if you are vaccinated the livelihood of you getting COVID-19 infection is much less than if you weren't vaccinated. It is preventing you getting infected but to what extent we haven't come to a consensus agreement yet.
When can I get it?
A lot of people ask me when can I get it, everyone wants to get it now. What is happening in general practices is that we have a rationed approach to how many vaccines we will get. For example my general practice gets 100 vaccines per week and I have 1000 plus eligible people who need to have the vaccine as of now onward as part of Phase 1b.
For me to give those people the vaccine it will take about 10-11 weeks. By that time comes the second dose of the vaccine, and another ten weeks from there, and on top of it most of them will have the flu vaccine. Everyone wants to have it now but there isn't time for everyone to have it at once in GP setting, nor is there the vaccine to do that. In Australia we're in a good place hence we can take our time and slowly and surely in time to come it can roll out with no issues.
Is AstraZeneca less safe or effective thanthe Pfizer vaccine?
AstraZeneca and any vaccine approved to be used in Australia, are extremely safe vaccines, safety is not an issue. I tell my patients in simple terms we are in a place called A and we need to get to a place by B very soon. If I'm at A and wanting to go to B I don't care if I go in a Japanese manufactured car or a European manufactured car. It has the same mechanism, it will take you from this place to that, it has the same safety profile. What we need to tell people very openly is that no deaths, no hospitalisations no ICU needed, it will prevent mortality and morbidity, hospitals are not going to be overrun with any of the vaccines we have in the market at the moment.
Can I have the vaccine if I'm pregnant, trying or breastfeeding?
Having the vaccine during pregnancy is not routinely recommended given the fact we haven't got enough data around pregnancy and the vaccine, but it is considered on a case by case basis. From what we know around the world from women who had the vaccine and accidentally got pregnant around the time of having the first or second dose, the vaccine has no effect on pregnancy at all. With breastfeeding, you can have vaccine no worries.
Are there medical conditions where I shouldn't have the vaccine?
ATAGI says if you are known to have Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis you shouldn't have the vaccine also, people with Piperine Induced Thrombocytopenia.
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