The following information is based on the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccines information, available at health.gov.au.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information webinar
In May 2021, Prof. Peter Wark (Senior Staff Specialist: Respiratory & Sleep) joined us for a webinar to discuss the COVID-19 vaccinations and topics including:
- How the vaccines work
- Why we need two doses of the vaccine
- The approval process for COVID-19 vaccinations
- Differences between available vaccines
- Possible side effects
- Should individuals with lung disease and/or lung cancer get the vaccine?
Please note: the information in this resource was current at the time of release. As this is an evolving situation please check information from your treating doctor for advice on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccines and lung conditions
Can I receive the vaccine at home?
The Government advises those with mobility challenges contact their GP to discuss options for a home visit. Vaccines are available through GP and respiratory clinics, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services and, in some states, mass vaccination hubs. Monitor the Department of Health website, plus your state’s health website, for updates and go to the Eligibility Checker to find out your vaccination status.
Do I need to space out my influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations?
The recommended minimum gap between an influenza vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine is 14 days. Your GP or health specialist can provide more information regarding the best way to proceed with both vaccinations.
Could the vaccine potentially have adverse effects on other medication or on those with a lung condition?
While there are currently no known reactions with other medications, all medicines can have side effects, most minor and temporary such as soreness around where you received the needle and mild fever. These can be a sign that your body is mounting an immune responseiii. It is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns, particularly regarding other medication you may already be taking.
The Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) recommends that people with a weakened immune system discuss COVID-19 vaccination with their doctor or healthcare provider. The TGA will continue to monitor vaccines so that the government can respond to any safety concerns.
Is there any specific advice regarding COVID-19 vaccinations for people with lung cancer?
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommend people who are immunocompromised should be among the priority groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccines because of their increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19. Cancer Australia has compiled specific FAQs about COVID-19 vaccines for people affected by cancer. If you’re living with cancer, you should discuss your individual circumstances with your healthcare team.
Do I need a COVID-19 vaccine booster?
ATAGI recommends a 3rd primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine for severely immunocompromised people aged 12 and older. The 3rd dose is intended to maximise the level of immune response to as close as possible to the general population. The recommended interval for the third dose is two to six months after your second dose of vaccine. ATAGI’s advice is that an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) is the preferred option for a third dose. Read more about eligibility, here.
Can I get sick from the vaccine?
All medicines can have side effects, generally minor and temporary, and the TGA will continue to monitor vaccines. Serious reactions are rare. Discuss any questions or concerns you have about the vaccine and potential side effects.
Who can I talk to if I have further concerns about getting the vaccine?
We recommend speaking with your treating healthcare team about the COVID-19 vaccine and your healthcare plan.
Other COVID-19 vaccine questions
How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
Like many vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine trains your immune system to recognise a virus, in this case the one that causes COVID-19, as dangerous and fight it. This vaccine will work in the same way that other vaccines you may already receive do, such as influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia. Some vaccines contain either inactive or weakened versions of the virus that causes the infection, while others teach our bodies how to make a protein that triggers an immune response in our bodies. However, they are all designed to allow your body to develop a supply of defensive white blood cells that will remember how to fight the virus. This process can take a few weeks so it is still possible to become unwell if you are infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after receiving the vaccine.
What is the difference between the vaccinations currently being administered to Australians?
Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines use the body’s own cells to produce a protein that is unique to the virus. Once this protein has developed, the body’s immune system automatically produces the cells needed to destroy it. It learns and remembers this defensive process and will activate that process if it comes across the protein again. However the two vaccines use different technologies to stimulate the immune response in the body.
The Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at very low temperatures (-70C or below), is known as an mRNA vaccine. While some vaccines use a weakened or inactive germ to trigger an immune response, mRNA vaccines teach our cells to make protein, in this case a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. When our immune system detects the protein, which doesn’t belong, it starts making antibodies and commits this process to memory. The Moderna vaccine, which has been provisionally approved by the TGA, is also an mRNA vaccine.
The AstraZenca vaccine, which can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, is known as a viral vector vaccine. This type of vaccine uses a modified version of another virus, in this case a common cold virus, which has been altered to look like coronavirus. As with an mRNA vaccine, the body’s immune system kicks in, starts making antibodies and primes to attack the virus. The Janssen-Cilag vaccine, which has been provisionally approved by the TGA is also a viral vector vaccine.
There are also differences in the time and dosing required. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart while AstraZeneca’s needs two doses given 4-12 weeks apart and Moderna’s doses 28 days apart.
Have the vaccines been through the required approval process?
Yes, they have. Given the urgency, this approval has been fast-tracked but no corners have been cut. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has a rigorous process covering safety, quality and effectiveness. Before any vaccine is approved, it is tested extensively through laboratory research, animal studies and human clinical trials. It is also worth noting that researchers started work on COVID-19 vaccinations early last year, soon after cases first started emerging worldwide. Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been provisionally approved by the TGA. The Moderna and Janssen-Cilag COVID-19 vaccines have also be provisionally approved by the TGA.
Which vaccine should I get?
There are currently four COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia: AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen-Cilag and Moderna. It’s important to speak to your GP about the best option for your individual circumstances. They will consider factors including your age and any pre-existing conditions you may have to determine what is right for you.
How do I know if I am eligible?
The government’s vaccine rollout has been staggered based on factors including age, pre-existing conditions and occupation. Current eligibility varies state-by-state so it’s important to monitor the advice of your state government to know when you’re eligible to book an appointment. Use the Eligibility Checker to find out when and where you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Can children be vaccinated?
The use of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are approved in Australia for use in children aged 12 years and over. The ATAGI recommends vaccination for all individuals aged 12 years and over with the Pfizer vaccine. It is particularly important for at-risk groups including:
- children with specified medical conditions that increase their risk of severe COVID-19
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
- children in remote communities
- children on the National Disability Insurance Service (NDIS) as well as unpaid or informal carers
- anyone aged 16 and above.
Children under 12 years are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia.
How do I book my vaccine?
There are a number of ways to book an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The options available to you may vary based on where you live. Be sure to check your state government’s website for the most up to date information.
- Complete the Government’s Eligibility Checker to find out when you’re eligible to receive the vaccine and where you can receive it.
- If you are eligible, the checker will identify options to book your vaccine based on a postcode search. Depending on the facility bookings can be made via online or phone. Some facilities may even offer a walk-in option.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 020 080 or check your own state’s health website.
- Speak to your doctor to see if they are offering the COVID-19 vaccination via appointment at their clinic or facility.
- Download our free Vaccination Tracker to keep track of your appointments.
Are there other vaccinations being trialled?
There are many vaccines being developed and trialled around the world. Novavax is another being developed in Australia and there are many more being developed globally.
Where will the vaccines be administered?
Vaccines are being administered at state-run hubs, hospitals, general practices, health clinics, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and pharmacies which have expressed interest and been approved. All COVID-19 vaccinations administered will be recorded on to the Australian Immunisation Register.
How effective are the approved vaccines in preventing severe illness or hospitalisation?
The vaccines approved in Australia are both extremely effective in preventing severe cases and also extremely effective in providing protection against most variants of the virus.
Why do we need to have two doses spaced apart?
The first dose helps your body recognise the virus and starts the immune response, and the second dose helps to strengthen that immune response to better prepare your body to fight the real virus if needed.
Can children be vaccinated against COVID-19?
All Australians over the age of 12 can now receive vaccination against COVID-19. This is particularly important for household contacts of healthcare workers, quarantine and border workers and other at-risk occupational groups, along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and those with underlying medical conditions. Talk to your GP if you have any specific questions or concerns about vaccinating your child.
Will there be enough vaccines available for everyone?
The Government has secured enough doses of the various vaccines to ensure every Australia who wants to receive the vaccine has access to one.
How soon will the vaccine have an impact on COVID-19 numbers?
It is too early to know when these current vaccines will enable Australia, or countries worldwide, to achieve “herd immunity” (enough people in community protected from contracting COVID-19); or when/if they will enable a “return to normal”. The key at this stage is to reduce the number of people infected and prevent severe cases requiring hospitalisation. Safe and effective vaccines can reduce the health, social and economic impact of the pandemic and save lives. Social distancing and good hygiene habits will, however, remain essential.