Lockdowns and border closures have made it clear that vaccinations are necessary, however numerous conspiracy theories and rumours have helped contribute to speculation and hesitancy when it comes to getting the jab.

Talk around COVID-19 vaccinations is varied with claims by some that it can change a person’s DNA and others even more outlandish pointing to the virus being used as a way to gather DNA samples.

Dr Marinis Pirpiris, President of the Greek Medical Association of Australia, spoke to Neos Kosmos to outline the facts and get the message out about vaccines and their effectiveness.

Here’s all you need to know:

Following the latest developments, has the uptake for vaccinations increased in Melbourne?

The rate of uptake for vaccinations has increased.

As per the press release from Health Minister Greg Hunt MP on the 26 May 2021, the Australian Government was releasing to releasing a further 40,000 immediately that week. This was to be supplemented by an additional 15,000 doses per week for the coming 6 weeks.

Of the 598 aged care facilities in Victoria 569 have received a first dose clinic and 361 are fully vaccinated with both doses.

As at 1 June 2021, the total doses administered were 494,037 with 20,484 having been administered over the previous 24 hours. There were 424,251 who had had their first dose with 18,946 of those having received it over the previous 24 hours. 69,784 had received their second dose with 1,538 having received their second dose over the previous 24 hours.

READ MORE: Brett Sutton urges Australia to ramp up vaccinations for borders to open again

What is the desired portion of vaccinations needed in order to be able to feel as though we have brought transmission under control? 

In order to achieve herd immunity we would have to reach an immunization rate of a minimum of 70 percent. The US is aiming for a vaccination level for herd immunity of 75-85 per cent. There are some uncertainties at this point as we continue to learn about this new challenge.

We may continue to have intermittent periods, where we wear masks, perform hand hygiene and perform socially distancing for the management of outbreaks with new variants. This will occur until we reach a position where the authorities have confidence we are protected, and that the disease is in fact “endemic”.

Does the vaccination protect us and, if so, for how long?

With people who have been vaccinated, antibodies are detected for at least six months with only a minimal decrease in the level of antibodies. This does not mean that the protection drops off after the 6 months. The aim of the second dose, is to prolong the effect of the immunisation. The second dose has been demonstrated to be effective in maintaining the immunity for the longer term.

It is likely that we will eventually move to a model where we will be offered a yearly vaccination, not unlike the Flu vaccine.

The recent case of the health worker in an aged care worker who had been vaccinated but nonetheless tested positive raises questions: Can someone who has been vaccinated test positive to COVID-19? Can that person also be a carrier in the transmission of the virus? 

Once immunised, the COVID-19 vaccine will protect the immunised person. However, there is still a possibility that, despite being immunised, you may transmit the virus to others. You may inadvertently infect others.

This is of relevance to our aged care facilities, which are usually staffed with non-permanent full-time staff. As the staff may move between sites and hospitals, they may inadvertently carry the virus from site to site. As such, until further information is obtained, the government response will continue to be rapid in cases of outbreaks in the coming 12 months.

What happens in different strains of the virus? How protected are we with the vaccination? Many are afraid that we may need to be vaccinated for every different variant? How valid is such a concern? 

All viruses mutate. All the vaccines, which have been approved for use in Australia have been demonstrated to be effective in preventing serious illness with COVID-19.

There are new vaccines regularly appearing on the market. The Australian Government and the Therapeutic Goods Administration are continually monitoring the data and the international experience.

Eventually the virus may mutate sufficiently for the vaccine not to be as effective. This would means that the vaccine would need to be periodically updated – not unlike the Flu vaccine. It is likely that we will need to be vaccinated It may mean that we may require further updated vaccinations in the future -not unlike the annual Flu vaccine.

READ MORE: WHO reveals new Greek alphabet naming system for COVID 19 variants

Marinis Pirpiris. Photo:Supplied

Should someone who has already had COVID-19 be vaccinated?

In Australia, people who have had COVID-19 and recovered should still be vaccinated. The protection that the infection gives you may vary between people. As this is a new challenge, the health authorities are still unclear as to how long the immunity may last. As such you should still become vaccinated to protect family, friends and colleagues from severe disease.

There are different vaccines for different age groups. Can someone choose which vaccine they prefer?

There are many vaccines that are available. The vaccines approved for use have been prioritised to those at risk by the government. The allocation has been prioritised by the health authorities.

At this point of the pandemic, Australia has made two vaccines widely available – The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the Pfizzer-BioNTech vaccine.

As a general comment, excluding health care workers and people in aged care facilities:

  • People aged 40-49 may access the Pfizer vaccine with a booking
  • People aged over 50 years may access the AstraZeneca vaccine

Numerous vaccine centres have been opened.

At this point in time there is no ability to select which vaccine you will be receiving during the immunisation program.

Australia has actually entered into a number of separate agreements to secure more than 195 million doses is COVID-19 vaccines, if they prove to be effective.

At the moment The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-198 vaccine was approved on the 25 January 2021. The Pfizer has been provisionally registered for use in individuals 12 years or older.

The University of Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine is also approved. The AstraZeneca vaccine has also been provisionally approved for use in people 18 years and over. Australia has secured 3.8 million doses of this vaccine from offshore sources and will be manufacturing 50 million doses with CSL.

A number of other vaccines may eventually be available. Australia has committed to a Moderna COVID-19 advanced purchase agreement. Novavax vaccine is being evaluated by the TGA. Australia has also signed up to the COVAX Facility, however vaccines produced through this facility will need to be approved for use by the TGA.

Much has been heard about the AstraZeneca vaccine and the creation of blood clots. How dangerous is it?

The public loses confidence fairly rapidly when there are reported issues with vaccines. The recent clots in some countries have led to a situation where people have become confused and have not had their vaccination. While there is a risk of clot, particularly in people aged less than 50 years, the vaccine is very much more likely to save lives. The risk of blood clots is fairly low and is much lower than that with COVID infection. The risks of clot have been estimated at approximately four cases in 1,000,000 people with the immunisation (0.0004 per cent). The risks of clot in people who get COVID is estimated to be around 165,000 cases in 1,000,000 (16.5 per cent).

To place this into perspective, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the risk of clot with use of oral contraceptive pills in users who are not pregnant is 3-9/10,000 woman-years. The background rate of those not taking the oral contraceptive pill is 1-5/10,000 woman-years. In this setting, one may surmise that the risk of clot is low.

In order to provide an even greater level of safety in people aged less than 50 years, the Australian government has provided them with access to the Pfizer vaccine.

READ MORE: What is thrombocytopenia, the rare blood condition possibly linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Regarding AstraZeneca, what type of side effects may we experience?

There may be symptoms with the vaccine including
*pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itching at the injection site
*tiredness
*headache
*muscle pain
*nausea
*fever and chills
*feeling unwell
*joint pain

It may even cause
*enlarged glands (lymph nodes)
*pain the limb
*dizziness
*decreased appetite
*stomach pain

The effects are usually mild. They start within a day and may last one to two days.

What signs should we watch out for after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca and what do we need to do should these occur?

There are some very rare side effects with the AstraZeneca which include:

*severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) which occurs in one in a million
*blood clotting and a low platelet count which occurs in four to six in a million – this occurs approximately four to twenty days after the vaccination and can lead to catastrophic consequences.

You should seek medical help, with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • difficulty breathing, wheezing and a fast heart beat
  • severe persistent headaches
  • blurred vision
  • weakness of face or limbs
  • confusion or seizure
  • persistent abdominal pain
  • leg swelling
  • rash

Your doctor will be able to assess you. You will need to tell the doctor that you have recently had your immunisation. If you experience severe symptoms you may call 000.

What are the most regular side effects of the Pfizer vaccine and how long do they last for?

Common side effects include

  • pain at the injection site
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • fever and chills
  • joint pain

Less common side effects include

  • Nausea
  • Enlarged glands (lymph nodes)
  • Feeling unwell
  • Insomnia
  • Itch at injection site

These side effects are temporary and will usually settle within a day or two.

Some will experience flu-like illness, which is less common with the first dose and core common with the second dose.

Rare, severe reactions include severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)

There is a rare risk of myocarditis from the Pfizer vaccine. In Israel this was estimated to be 0.001 per cent. Medical help should be sought if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or a quick-beating or fluttering heart. There is some lack of clarity regarding the link, Most comments from the CDC of the US have stated that it does not seems to be a clinically relevant and clinically significant disease as the US has not seen any clinically relevant cases despite millions of vaccines. The US has vaccinated more than 165 million people in the US and in the people affected the symptoms were mild, mostly in adolescents and young adults and more often after their second dose, with a return to normal activities when the symptoms resolved.

Should you have any concerns please discuss them with your general practitioner.

If you have a severe reaction, call 000 if you experience difficulties breathing.

Which groups are considered the most vulnerable for whom vaccination should take place immediately?

The risk factors are as follows:

Old age – as compared with those aged less than 50 years, the risk of death increases with every decade of life

  • 50-59 years increased risk of death by 2 times
  • >80 years increased risk of death >10 times

In Australia the case fatality ratio increases with age

  • 50-64 years 0.6 per cent
  • 65-79 years 7 per cent
  • >or equal to 80 years 33.8 per cent

Medical History
Anyone with multiple comorbidities should discuss COVID-19 with their general practitioner

A recent Australian and New Zealand consensus statement agreed that patients with COVID-19 and pre-existing cardiovascular disease as at risk of severe disease and death. In a study of 46000 patients in China:

  • Baseline cardiovascular disease increased the odds of severe disease versus mild disease by 3.42
  • Hypertension by 2.36
  • Respiratory Disease by 2.46

Occupational exposure

  • People working at border and quarantine facilities
  • Health care workers
  • Aged care facilities
  • Disability care facilities
  • Meat processing facilities

Children and Adolescents – this has been a topic of conversation since the beginning of the pandemic

Children with COVID19 commonly do not exhibit symptoms. In a large study of 1,475 children

  • 15 per cent were asymptomatic
  • 42 per cent have mild symptoms
  • 39 per cent had moderate illness
  • 2 per cent had critical illness

According to the TGA (February 2021), there is also a risk of a rare of a serious inflammatory condition in children, which may be life threatening.

When shall I get my vaccine?

The Australian government recommends that you have your vaccines as soon as possible
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The Australian government recommends that people over the age of 40 be immunized as soon as possible.

There is a hesitancy to receive the vaccine in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Communities are working through many of their queries and the biggest challenge is to break down the information in a way that is meaningful to everyone. The global advice is that you have your vaccine as soon as possible.

How many Australians have had the vaccine?

On 31 March

  • 4,243,600 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered Australians
  • 345,583 doses delivered in residential aged care and disability care
  • 2,359,799 doses have been administered through primary care

Will COVID-19 affect me?

As we move forward through COVID-19 it will become apparent that COVID-19 will eventually affect everyone. It does not pick and choose the individual. It is a biological agent. It is airborne. Eventually everyone will be exposed to COVID-19.

Can COVID-19 cause life threatening complications?

Most definitely yes. COVID-19 can make you very sick. You may also spread it to your friends, families and colleagues.

Are vaccines safe?

Some people are very concerned about the safety. Safety has always been a priority in the development of the vaccine. There are many processes in place to ensure safety.

Will the vaccine give me COVID-19?

The vaccines will not make you sick with COVID-19.
The vaccine does not include a live COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine teaches the body how to recognise and fight the virus.

Will the vaccine affect my DNA?

Your DNA is kept in the nucleus of the cell. The mRNA vaccine only provide the cell with information to help start building the protective response to the virus. The material does not enter the nucleus of the cell, where the DNA is housed. The vaccine does not affect of interact with your DNA.

Is immunisation effective?

There are approximately 96 COVID-19 vaccines in the process of being developed. In general terms, the reasons for getting immunised relate to:

  • protecting yourself
  • there is no way to predict how COVID-19 will affect the individual
  • protecting your family
  • protecting your community

People are not fully vaccinated until 2-4 weeks after their second vaccinations with (Pfizzer or Astra Zenaca)

When analysing the effectivess of the vaccine some have been focussed on the relative risk reduction , which is the risk ratio of attack with and without a vaccine:

  • 95 per cent for the Pfizzer-BioNTech
  • 94 per cent for the Moderna-NIH
  • 67 per centfor the J&J
  • 67 per cent for the AstaZeneca-Oxford

However, another way to analyse the data is the number of people needed to vaccinate to prevent another case, according to the risk of getting the disease according the background incidence of the disease where the study was performed. Using this analysis the number needed to treat were:

  • 117 for the Pfizzer-BioNtech
  • 76 for the Moderna-NIH
  • 84 for the J&J
  • 78 for the AstraZeneca.

In any case, the overwhelming evidence that the Australian government has been sharing is that the AstraZeneca vaccination significantly reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 and minimises your risk of severe disease, long term health problems and death.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine affect my ability to have a baby?

It is safe to have the vaccine. There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccine causes any problem with pregnancy. There is also no evidence that it affect fertility.

I heard that more people will die from the side effects from the vaccine – is this correct?

This is incorrect. The vaccine may cause some mile effects which may be managed with mild pain relief. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration keeps a very close eye on the data and does not approve vaccines that are not safe or effective.

The virus will mutate quickly, so it is no use to get vaccinated – is this correct?

Based on the best available evidence, COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the new variant. Furthermore, if you are infected with COVID-19, the vaccines minimise your risk of getting serious health effects or succumbing to the effect of the virus. The current vaccines are very effective against severe illness.

Is COVID-19 a hoax?

This is not a hoax. Australia has been an integral part of the global response to COVID-19. Our laboratories were some of the first to isolate the virus outside China. The virus exists and is a part of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)-CoV-2 family. It is a Coronavirus wh. The Coronaviruses are responsible for about 10-15 per cent of common colds. SARS-CoV was first detected as a cause of an outbreak in November 2002. From 2002 until 2014 774 people died.

In 2012 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)-CoV was identified in Saudi Arabia followed by a MERS outbreak in South Korea in 2015 and Saudi Arabia on 2018. The difference with SARS-CoV-2 is that its infectivity is so much greater than MERS-CoV. In fact, the initial SARS-CoV-2 was not as deadly as SARS-CoV or MERS-CoV, however because it is much more infective, it infects a much greater proportion of the population that more people will eventually die. In fact COVID-19 is the seventh member of the coronavirus to infect humans and was characterised as a pandemic by the WHO on 11 March 2020. Other previous global pandemics have included the Spanish Flu (1918), the Asian Flu (1957) and the Hong Kong flu (1968).

It is important to remember that global pandemic are deadly. The Spanish flu was responsible for 50 million deaths, the Asian flu with 1.5 million death and the Hong Kong flu 1 million deaths. The only responsible decision is to get immunised as soon as possible

There is a conspiracy that people are using COVID-19 in order to collect your DNA.

This is incorrect. The government is not taking any blood at the time of vaccination. There is no DNA being collected.

If you have any queries you may contact the information lines from the Department of Health CORONA information lines :

Switchboard 02 6289 1555
Freecall 1800 020 103

There is also the website located on www.australia.gov.au

The national coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine help line may be contacted on 1800 020 080

For those with access to the internet, there is also the following Apps:
*Coronavirus Australia App : to stay up to date with official information; and
*Australian Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19 to learn the latest on Australia’s response to coronavirus

You may also access the latest information on the government website

 

 



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