Hello and welcome to today’s Top Three. My name is Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, here at the Department of Health in Canberra and joined by my good friend Linda. My thank you today is to everybody who is engaging on social media with the Australian Government Department of Health through these videos which we are posting on Facebook, through your interaction with our website, health.gov.au, and a particular thank you to everybody who is sending in questions that you would like to see answered. Our aim is to answer your questions and provide you with accurate, reliable, up-to-date information that you can trust, and at the same time, to dispel any of the myths which are out there about COVID-19, so thank you for working with us on this important task, thank you for sharing these public health messages with your friends, with your family and with your social media networks. Today is a special treat. Instead of a Top Three, I will provide you with a Top Four, your top four questions for the past week.
The first question is why is it okay for my child to now receive the Pfizer vaccine if they are aged 12 to 15 years of age?
As you may know, the Pfizer vaccine was originally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, our national medicines and vaccines regulator, for use in people aged 16 years and above in Australia. However, we have been following very closely the research overseas and in Australia about the safe use of these vaccines in children. As a result, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged between 12 and 15 years of age. This information is then looked at by ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the nation’s experts on the safe and appropriate use of vaccines by the people of Australia. ATAGI has recommended that from 9 August we make the Pfizer vaccine available as a priority for children aged between 12 to 15 in three categories. The first is children with significant chronic health problems which, if they were to be infected with COVID-19, would put them at increased risk of serious disease. There is a list on the health.gov.au website of these conditions, but they include severe asthma, diabetes, obesity, children with cardiac and circulatory congenital abnormalities, children with neurodevelopmental disorders, children who are immune compromised and children with trisomy 21. That list of conditions is on the health.gov.au website. The second group of children is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12 to 15. All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 12 years and above from 9 August are able to access the COVID-19 vaccines and for children, it is the Pfizer vaccine. The third group is children living in remote communities. We have been taking the vaccine out to the most remote communities in Australia and we have been vaccinating everybody in the community at the same time. So now this will include children aged between 12 and 15 years of age, and a huge thank you to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the other people who are providing that service to Australians living in remote areas. A reminder if you have any questions or confusion about whether or not you or a member of your family is currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, please go to the Vaccine Eligibility Checker on health.gov.au.
Our second question today is what are the symptoms of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia that I should look out for after the AstraZeneca vaccine?
There has been a lot in the media about the very, very small risk of blood clots following the AstraZeneca vaccine and I know that some people have been hesitant about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine because of these reports. It is most important that if after you’ve had the AstraZeneca vaccine that you know what are the possible symptoms of this very rare syndrome, so if you experience any of those symptoms, you can consult your trusted doctor or attend hospital, get a quick test and we can determine whether you may have this condition or not. What are the possible symptoms? Firstly, it is not unusual after either of the COVID-19 vaccines to have symptoms for a couple of days. Symptoms of fever, fatigue, aches and pains or headache. This is self-limiting, usually doesn’t last more than 24 to 48 hours and the symptoms are not severe. However, if you develop particularly headache that is persistent and continues, particularly starting four or more days after your vaccine, then this may be an indication of this rare syndrome. These headaches we now know initially may respond to simple analgesics like paracetamol or ibuprofen but the headaches are persistent, they happen every day, and the headaches may be associated with other worrying symptoms. You may get shortness of breath, you may get b symptoms which may indicate that there are things happening inside your head, for example, blurring of vision, difficulty with speaking. You may develop very small blood spots, rash, occurring on your skin, away from the injection site. You may experience unusual and persistent pain in your stomach, in your abdomen, so there are a number of symptoms. We have a fact sheet on this on the Australian Government Department of Health website that you can have a look at. If you do have any of these symptoms and you consult your doctor, pharmacist, other healthcare professional, please tell them that you have recently had a vaccine for COVID-19 so that they can be especially vigilant in checking you out and making sure you are okay. As long as we know about these symptoms, what we then know is that people can be treated for this condition. We know a lot more about treating this condition than we did earlier in the year, so please, if you do have these unusual or persistent symptoms of headache or abdominal pain, please consult your trusted medical adviser. As I say, the information is all on the health.gov.au website.
The third question is about a new possible side effect of the Pfizer vaccine which is called myocarditis or pericarditis. And your question is is there the risk of developing this syndrome?
So, just as we can see very rarely people developing the thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, the clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine, we now know there is a very, very small risk of developing a condition called myocarditis or pericarditis following the Pfizer vaccine, and this has particularly been seen overseas in men aged under 30 and it has also been seen following the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Myocarditis is a condition that often occurs after viral infections including infection with COVID-19, and it is much, much more rare for it to occur after the Pfizer vaccine. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, pericarditis is inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart, and if you develop either of these conditions, you may get symptoms of an irregular heartbeat, what we call palpitations, you may have chest pain, you may have shortness of breath, you may feel lightheaded. So again, if you develop any of these symptoms, please consult with your doctor or get someone to take you to the emergency department and please make sure you tell the doctors and nurses you’ve had a recent COVID-19 vaccine. We have very good treatments for this condition and it is usually mild and usually self-limiting. Again, it is really important if it is your turn to get the vaccine, that you get the vaccine, but that you are aware of these possible, very rare side effects. And of course, our consistent message is the really important message that if you have symptoms of flu or fever or other respiratory symptoms that you arrange to get COVID-19 test.
Our fourth question today is a question about is the PCR test, the polymerase chain reaction test unreliable? I’ve heard that report. Is that true?
The answer to this one is easy. The answer is no, it is not true. The PCR test is very reliable. The PCR test is our gold standard test for detecting COVID-19. This is the test which is carried out when you have the swab to the back of your nose and the back of your throat and that swab is sent off to the laboratory and the look for evidence of the presence of the COVID-19 virus or fragments of the virus in people who have been infected and are now recovering. These tests are very accurate, which is why they are used as the gold standard test in Australia. There is a little bit of confusion because we are seeing in the media discussion of other tests for COVID-19 including tests called rapid antigen tests, which are not as accurate as the PCR tests, but they provide a quicker result and it may well be that we see more use of the rapid antigen tests as more and more people have been vaccinated in Australia and when our country starts to open up. But for the moment, the gold standard test remains the PCR test. Again, if you have any other symptoms that we talk about so much of, cold or fever or flu, isolate yourself, arrange to get a PCR test and that way you can protect your health, the health and well-being of your family members and other loved ones and the wider community. We are very concerned about the Delta variant of COVID-19. What we are seeing is that people are getting sicker quicker and we are also seeing younger people who are getting infected with COVID-19, the Delta variant, so please, if you have any symptoms, arrange to get tested and that way we are all working together to protect our entire nation.
That is our Top Four for today. A huge thank you to my interpreter, Linda, and a huge thank you to you for joining in. Thank you.
- Why is it now okay for my child to receive the Pfizer vaccine if they are aged 12-15 years?
- What are the symptoms of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) that I should look out for?
- If I receive the Pfizer vaccine, is there a risk that I will get myocarditis/pericarditis?
- I have heard that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests may be unreliable, is this true?