The next big phase of the pandemic will be the vaccination of the population against COVID-19. This is what we have been waiting for! It provides our best chance of living more freely, more like pre-pandemic times, by helping to prevent death and serious illness from COVID-19.
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination is imminent. The advertising has now officially started. It is so important that good quality information is made available as there are many rumours/half truths/fake news to be countered.
We are fortunate locally to have on our Hospital Board two very experienced experts in both vaccinations and epidemiology. Dr Priscilla Robinson has put together a two-part, comprehensive article which explains vaccinations in greater depth and in a very readable way. Definitely worth a look!
The Australian government aims to have as many people vaccinated as possible in 2021. Identified priority groups will get the first available doses. More people will have access to a vaccine as more doses become available throughout 2021. All up, Australia has purchased more than 114 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, more than enough to vaccinate the whole population, (although there are currently worrying signs distribution may be held up due to macro-political fights overseas between Europe and the Drug Companies). The goal is to give everyone access to safe, effective and free COVID-19 vaccines.
Stage 1a of the rollout is likely to start in late February or early March. This will be to our health, aged and disability care workforce, those who are most at risk, and people working in other critical services like quarantine facilities and emergency services personnel.
All potential COVID-19 vaccines to be used in Australia are currently going through rigorous testing processes. All will be carefully assessed for safety, quality and effectiveness before they are approved. Each vaccine is rigorously tested to meet the standards of our world-leading regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration – or TGA – which regulates and approves all vaccines, medicines, and other medical goods in Australia. The Pfizer vaccine (“COMIRNATY”) has now gained approval. Two doses will be needed per person to offer the best protection.
But how do they actually work? This is where the aforementioned 2-part article does so well, but put very simply, vaccines may contain either killed or weakened versions of the virus that causes the disease – or a small part of the virus, such as a protein. Given by a needle similar to the flu shot, they trigger an immune response in the body, which is the body’s natural way of defending itself. The creation of memory cells and antibodies strengthens the immune system, training it to recognise and fight the virus which causes COVID-19 (the SARS CoV-2 virus). It is important to know that there is no risk that anyone can get the disease from the vaccine.
The logistics of distributing the vaccines are of course enormous.
Our understanding presently is that as these are new vaccines we will not be able to vaccinate on mass in the drive-through method so successfully employed last year with the flu shot. We will also not be giving the flu shot at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine as medical advice currently is that the two need to be separated by at least 14 days.
We will continue to update readers as to when and where you will be offered the vaccine as soon as we know. But as mentioned, this will be a staged, orderly process likely to continue over many months.
Stay up to date via the Australian Government Health Department website at health.gov.au