Hello and welcome to today’s Top Three. My name is Michael Kidd, I’m the acting Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government Department of Health and joined as always by my friend and Auslan interpreter Linda. Welcome Linda. This is take two for those of you who were watching the live stream earlier. We had internet problems, my apologies, which stopped the broadcast, so take two. My shout out today is to everybody working in aged care right across Australia and to everybody who is working in aged care who has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or is currently planning to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We know that these vaccines save lives, we’re seeing this with the current outbreak in Sydney and the very low number of cases among the residents of residential aged care facilities. So please, if you are working in residential aged care and you haven’t yet been vaccinated, please arrange to do so today. Talk to your employer about how you can get vaccinated. The Australian Government has introduced a grant scheme to support residential aged care facility workers to go and get vaccinated if the vaccines are not being delivered at their facility and also so that people can have leave if they experience symptoms immediately after they receive their COVID-19 vaccines
So our first question is we’re seeing some confusion around vaccine eligibility for Pfizer compared to vaccine eligibility for AstraZeneca so can we talk about this and straighten out the confusion?
Firstly, if you have any questions about COVID-19 and the vaccines please go to the Australian Government Department of Health website, health.gov.au. There you’ll find the vaccine eligibility checker. You can enter your details and you’ll be advised whether you’re eligible for vaccination at the moment, which vaccine you’re eligible for and where you can get a vaccine and make a booking near to where you currently live or work. At the moment, the advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, is that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for people aged under 60 years of age across Australia, people aged between 16 and 60 years of age. However we’re still rolling out the Pfizer vaccine via age groups, currently rolling out for people age 40 and above. For people who are aged 18 to 60 who are currently not eligible for a Pfizer vaccine or if Pfizer is not currently available in your local area, you may want to consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine is licensed for use in anyone in Australia aged 18 years and above. If you’re aged between 18 and 60 and you would like to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, please talk to your GP or to the nurse who’s doing the vaccinations at the vaccination centre near you about the risks and benefits of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine and you’ll also be asked to provide informed consent before you’re vaccinated. We’re asking for informed consent for everybody being vaccinated against COVID-19 in Australia. The AstraZeneca vaccine remains the preferred vaccine for people aged 60 and above right across Australia. We’ve now had nearly 80 percent of all Australians aged over 70 vaccinated and protected against COVID-19. So if you or a member of your family are aged over 60 and haven’t been vaccinated yet please arrange to get vaccinated, there are many sites where you can get access to the AstraZeneca vaccine, including from general practices right across Australia. But as I said at the start, if you’re still a little confused about which vaccine you’re eligible for at the moment, please check the Australian Government website, health.gov.au.
The second question is about long COVID – what is it and is the Delta strain of COVID-19 having an impact on cases of long COVID?
So the long COVID syndrome occurs in some people who’ve been infected with COVID-19. Most people with COVID-19 will experience symptoms for days or for a few weeks and then will recover fully, but there are some people who develop long-term symptoms which may last for weeks or months after their infection. This may include symptoms of tiredness or fatigue, shortness of breath or reduced ability to exercise, and what’s been called brain fog, where people feel very unclear in their mind and have trouble thinking clearly, thinking straight. Other people may experience depression as a consequence of the long COVID syndrome. We’re still learning a lot about the syndrome but it reinforces the importance of vaccination and doing all you can do to protect yourself against being infected with COVID-19, and of course this also means following the restrictions in your state and territory, the restrictions in place to protect you and to protect other people from COVID-19 infection. The fewer people who are infected with COVID-19 in Australia the fewer cases of long COVID syndrome that we will see in our country. We’ve also seen in studies from overseas, particularly from King’s College in London, that there may be some benefit for people who have been infected with COVID-19 and developed the long COVID syndrome in then getting vaccinated against COVID-19. It appears that the vaccination itself can have an impact in reducing or helping people to recover from the long COVID syndrome. So please, reinforces the importance of everybody getting vaccinated against long COVID, I’m sorry, against COVID-19 and preventing long COVID. Now the Delta strain, what’s worrying of us about the Delta strain is that it is more easily transmitted than previous strains of COVID-19, which means there is a far greater risk of more people being infected and therefore a far greater risk of more people developing the long COVID syndrome. Whether Delta itself leads to more cases of long COVID remains to be seen and we’re following the research from around the world, particularly from countries with very very high numbers of people infected with COVID-19.
The third question is what’s the latest advice from ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, and what does it mean for me?
So ATAGI meets every week and reviews the epidemiology of COVID-19 across Australia, where outbreaks are occurring, which population groups are being most affected. They look at vaccination rates right across the country and they also look at the research coming from all around the world, the vast amount of new information that we’re learning every week about COVID-19 and how to protect people from this virus. Last week’s advice from ATAGI is available on the health.gov.au website and it talks about the outbreak of COVID-19 in Sydney. Given the current constraints on the number of doses the Pfizer vaccine in Australia, we are expecting millions more doses over the weeks and months ahead, but we currently only have available to us the doses which have arrived in Australia. So given this constraint ATAGI has recommended for people living in the Greater Sydney area who are aged 18 and above and are not able to get access to the Pfizer vaccine, that you consider getting access to the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is because the risk benefit profile has changed. We’ve seen younger people get very seriously unwell in Sydney from COVID-19 infection and sadly we’re starting to see young people in intensive care units and also we’ve seen some deaths occurring in younger people from COVID-19. So therefore again if you’re aged 18 to 60, please consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine right now if you’re in Sydney. You may also consider this if you’re in other parts of the country, have a discussion with your doctor, as I mentioned before, about the risks and the benefits of the vaccine. ATAGI has also recommended the people in Sydney who get the AstraZeneca vaccine or who have already received their first shot, get their second shot in four to six weeks rather than waiting 12 weeks for their second shot. What this means is that you will have full protection sooner against COVID-19. It may have an impact on how long your immunity to COVID-19 will last, because optimal protection occurs with those who’ve had their vaccines 12 weeks apart, but it will provide you with protection much sooner against serious disease from COVID-19 and that’s the aim of our vaccination program, is to prevent serious disease and the risk of death from COVID-19. ATAGI is again meeting this week and will have an update on their website or on the Australian Government Department of Health website later today, Friday, so please keep an eye out for that as well.
And that’s all our questions for today, so thank you for taking part and a huge thank you to Linda.
Top 3 questions
- We are seeing confusion around vaccine eligibility (Pfizer) vs availability (AstraZeneca). Are you able to clear this up for us?
- What is Long COVID? Has this changed with the Delta variant outbreak in Australia?
- What is the latest Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation advice and what does it mean for me?