22 February 2022 – Note: This article was written in May 2021 when we were still apprehensive about the vaccine rollout. Much has changed since then! The majority of the eligible Australian population have now received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and many have received their booster. For the latest info about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit the Australian Government, Department of Health website.
I was having lunch with friends last week. Two of us have recently turned 50, so of course the discussion turned to our eligibility to get the COVID vaccination (the fun never ends when you hit the big 5-0!).
I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only one starting to feel a little worried about being vaccinated. For months now, most people I know have been gung-ho, and ready to roll up their sleeves for the COVID vaccination.
So what’s changed?
We all know that in order to reach herd immunity – in Australia and globally – and reduce the spread of COVID, mass vaccination is our best option.
But many of us are losing confidence in the vaccination rollout, and are starting to become anxious about potential risks, especially around the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Our confidence in the Federal and state/territory governments has eroded over the past year. Petty squabbling between our governments, snap borders closures, lockdowns, problems with hotel quarantine, changes to vaccination targets, and the lack of choice when it comes to which vaccine we receive have made us question everything. Even the speed with which vaccines were created has made a lot of people worry.
The issue of rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which saw use of this vaccine paused in several countries, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommending Pfizer over AstraZeneca for those under 50, has been just another blow to our confidence.
On top of all of this has been the poor communication from our governments. Information has been very brief, lacking the detail that many of us want, or too complicated, especially around the issue of blood clots. And so many became hesitant about vaccination. Even though we knew it’s the best way out of this pandemic.
Our concerns are valid. Our choice will have an impact on our health and our lives.
So what can we do to deal with our hesitancy? We need to become better informed so we’re making decisions based on fact, not fear or misinformation.
Things to know about getting vaccinated:
Don’t believe everything you read or hear – on socials, in the media, from your neighbour. There’s been a lot of incorrect, biased and out-of-date information shared. The Australian Government COVID vaccine info, and your state/territory health websites are important places to start for accurate information. Then it’s a matter of discussing this information with your GP or specialist about your specific set of circumstances, and asking the questions that matter most to you.
Getting vaccinated reduces your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if you do get the virus. Being vaccinated also reduces the risk of passing the virus on to others if you do become infected. Read this article for more info: Mounting evidence suggests COVID vaccines do reduce transmission. How does this work?
We can’t choose which vaccine we receive. Unfortunately we currently only have the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines available for use in Australia. With the recent side effect of blood clots associated with AstraZeneca, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has stated that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred for people under the age of 50 who have a higher chance of developing this side effect. For those 50 and over, you will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
About those blood clots. We’ve seen media reports of people hospitalised for thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. And as someone who’s 50 and will receive this vaccine, the news coverage is scary. However it’s important to also be aware that the majority of people who experienced this side effect survived. Some were hospitalised and even spent time in intensive care – which is not nothing. But the weight of the evidence to date supports that your risk of developing severe illness or dying from COVID is greater than the risk of developing TTS.
Although the vaccines appeared quickly, researchers and manufacturers didn’t skip steps. The difference between developing the COVID vaccines, and past vaccines, is that we had so much genetic information about the virus very early on. We also had technologies in place, and government funding around the world, for work to begin as soon as possible.
Out of the large number of potential vaccines on the radar in 2020, only a small number made it through clinical trials. Many of the others fell by the wayside due to safety and efficacy issues.
The ones that did make it through then had to jump through the hoops of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, and similar organisations around the world. Read the TGA info on the vaccine approval process and their safety monitoring system.
The Australian Rheumatology Association recommends that people with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases get vaccinated.
Although in Australia we’ve been extremely lucky to have very low numbers of people being infected or dying from COVID, this could change, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world. So we can’t afford to become complacent. Whether you choose to be vaccinated or not, we all still need to adhere to the safety precautions we’ve become so familiar with:
- wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water
- use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water
- cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue; put the tissue in the bin and wash/sanitise your hands
- avoid touching your face
- clean surfaces regularly
- physically distance yourself from others
- stay home if you’re sick
- get tested.
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