AstraZenca COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available at your local pharmacy for those aged 18 years and older.


What is the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines stimulate the body’s natural defences to strengthen the immune system response to a condition or illness.  Vaccines use inactivated or severely weakened pathogens such as viruses or bacteria to trick the immune system into producing antibodies.  After receiving a viral vaccine, the body’s immune system recognises and remembers the virus.

If you should be exposed to the virus later, your immune system can fight off an infection more effectively because it has already produced antibodies to the virus. 

The development of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 has been a global public health challenge.  The race continues to manufacture and distribute effective and safe vaccines to billions of people. 

On 25th January 2021, the TGA granted provisional approval to Pfizer Australia for its COVID-19 vaccine, COMIRNATY.

On the 16th February 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted provisional approval to AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.  The approval meant that the vaccine had met the high standards of safety, effectiveness and quality required for use in Australia.

Pfizer AustraliaAstraZeneca COVID-19
Provisonal approval granted 25th January
Currently not available in pharmacies
Provisional approval granted 16th February
Currently available in pharmacies for 18 years and older

How is a COVID-19 vaccine approved?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for assessing all COVID-19 vaccines before they can be used in Australia.  Before a vaccine is approved for use in Australia, it must pass the TGA’s rigorous assessment and approval processes.  This includes assessment of its safety, quality and effectiveness.  The TGA formally evaluates vaccines in multiple stages, and seeks out further information and clarification

Over the past couple of months, many of you would have heard conflicting reports regarding the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.  Here are some facts you might want to know:

  • Vaccination remains the best way to protect against severe illness and death from COVID-19
  • The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is continuing to monitor local and international data on the rare and new condition that occurs after AstraZenca COVID-19 vaccine called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

How to prepare for COVID-19 vaccination

Before showing up at the pharmacy for you COVID vaccine you can do the following:

  • Ensure your details are up to date with Medicare (note you can still have a COVID-19 vaccine if you are not eligible for Medicare).  This can be done via Medicare online account through MyGov

Once you’ve had your vaccine, you’ll be able to get an immunisation history statement to prove your vaccination status.  You can check your eligibility using the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker.

You should not attend a COVID-19 vaccination appointment if you:

  • Are unwell with fever, cough, runny nose other symptoms that could be from COVID-19
  • Are awaiting COVID-19 test results
  • Have tested positive with COVID-19 and you are in isolation
  • Are in quarantine
  • are in close contact of someone with COVID-19

If you fall into any of the above categories, contact your pharmacist, to reschedule your appointment.

You are not required to test for COVID-19 before coming in for your vaccination appointment, if you do not have a fever or any respiratory symptoms.

What to expect at your vaccination appointment?

You should bring the following to your vaccination appointment

  • Medicare card, if you have one
  • Driver’s License or passport (to allow pharmacist to confirm proof of eligibility)
  • Information about any previous COVID-19 vaccine received (vaccine brand and date of vaccination)
  • A face mask

At the appointment you will be able to discuss any questions you have about COVID-19 vaccinations with your pharmacist.

What can I expect after receiving the vaccine?

Before leaving the pharmacy ensure that that you book your second vaccination appointment.

Once vaccinated, you need to be aware that you can still become infected with the virus, but the antibodies produced as a result of the vaccine can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms and stop you from getting very sick.

Like other medicines, all vaccines can cause side effects.  Most side effects are mild and temporary.  Some of the common side effects experienced include pain and redness at the injection site, low-level fever or muscle aches.  When they occur, these side effects usually last for 1-2 days.

If you think you may be experiencing a significant side effect to a COVID-19 vaccine, you should seek advice from a health professional.   The TGA encourages you to report suspected side effects following immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines.  Every report is valuable and contributes to Australia’s safety monitoring. Reporting is very easy and can be done via your local pharmacy or doctor


Frequently asked questions

Does the mRNA vaccine change my genetic code?

No.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines work differently to traditional vaccines.  An mRNA vaccine does not contain viral protein.  Instead, the vaccine contains key genetic instructions (mRNA) so our body knows how to make a particular viral protein itself.

COVID mRNA vaccines are injected into the muscles of the upper arm.  These muscle cells read the instructions and build a part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as the ‘spike protein’. Once the protein is made, the instructions are broken down and destroyed.  The newly built spike protein is seen by the immune system as not belonging to you, and antibodies to that spike are made.  Once vaccinated if you should be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the spike proteins on the live virus will be recognised by your immune system and more antibodies will be made to stop the virus from causing an infection. 

The mRNA genetic material does not enter the human cell nucleus, where our DNA is located and cannot alter your DNA or genetic make-up.

Could I be allergic to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to vaccine are very rare.  Pharmacist are trained to recognise and manage any immediate severe reactions.  If anaphylaxis does occur, it is generally within the first 15-20 minutes, after receiving the vaccine, hence why your pharmacist will ask you to wait for 15 minutes, so they can observe you for any reaction.