Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – Reactions, informing your GP and booster shots

Department of Health

covid-19 vaccine tile

Dr Lucas de Toca

7:24

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Dhawra nhuna, dhawra Ngunawal. Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny balan bugarabang. And I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands where people may be working from.

My shout out today goes to people in remote communities that are still coming forward to receive the vaccination when offered. The remote rollout of the vaccine goes in sequences across different regions. It might be the vaccine will be offered in a few weeks, or you might be part of the rollout right now, but thank you to everyone who has shown up to be vaccinated.

First question, why do some people experience more severe reactions than others to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Every person’s immune system is unique and it reacts differently to being exposed to different things, including vaccines. Most vaccines have side effects and the COVID-19 vaccines are no different in that respect. So, you may experience some side-effects following vaccination.

The most common reactions are a little bit of soreness in the injection site, a bit of pain, a bit of redness. You can also get a mild fever, you might also get a headache or some muscle aches. They normally are mild, they appear in one to 3 days of receiving the vaccine and then go away by themselves.

Some people, get a more noticeable, more severe, flulike type of symptoms when they get the vaccine and with the COVID-19 vaccines sometimes more than others, but that is also normal and nothing to be worried about.

Some people experience a slightly different pattern of side effects with the second dose than they do with the first one.

Some people experience more of a reaction with the first one, whereas with for instance, the Pfizer vaccine more people seem to experience a bit more of these effects with the second dose.

It is really important that everyone completes a course of vaccination and that is, getting your second dose after you have received the first one, three weeks after for the Pfizer vaccine and preferably 12 weeks after for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The more serious reactions, like what we call anaphylaxis, which is a really serious form of an allergic reaction, tend to appear quickly. So these reactions normally appear within 15 minutes of receiving the vaccine and that is why for vaccines, including the flu or COVID-19 vaccines, people are asked to wait for 15 minutes in the health clinic after the vaccine before they can go. So if there is anything, something like anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction occurring they are still at the clinic when that comes up.

There is also a COVID-19 vaccine symptom checker on the Department of Health’s website on health.gov.au that can help you identify the side-effects you are experiencing, and give some advice on what to do next. You can also find the COVID-19 vaccine side effects system checker on the national coronavirus triage hotline on 1800020080.

Of course, these tools online or on the phone, are just to give general advice and they do not substitute going to your health professional for your individual advice.

If you are concerned about your side-effects after the vaccine, if they are much more severe, or you feel much more unwell than you were expecting and of course if you experience something very significant, like shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of your leg, severe abdominal pain that does not go away or neurological symptoms, like blurred vision, or headache that is different to other headaches you have had and does not go away with pain relief, then you should seek urgent medical attention, either calling your health professional or going to a hospital.

Remember, we talk about side effects, and we have before, as showing the immune system is reacting, but if you don’t experience side-effects it doesn’t mean the vaccine is not working. We shouldn’t you side-effects as a proxy for vaccine effectiveness because everyone is different and people react differently and you may react different to the same vaccine as well as people who experience different reactions to the flu vaccine year after year.

Side effects are normal. If they are severe, serious, or really concerning to you, seek medical help, but otherwise, just go online if you have questions.

Second question, if I have a reaction to the vaccine should I let my doctor know straight away?

If you or your healthcare provider think that a vaccine has caused side-effects it is important to report it. We encourage you to report it. That helps us map and fully understand, as the vaccines are rolled out, as any vaccines are rolled out, warning factors and we can tailor advice on what to expect after the vaccine.

If you go to your healthcare professional, regular provider, or the organisation that provided the vaccine for you, and report your side effect, they will report it for you to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the regulator in Australia. You can also go to the TGA website on TGA.gov.au and report it yourself. There is an online form for that.

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