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Getting the COVID-19 vaccination

23-minute read

The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all Australians in 2021. Read about when vaccinations will be available, where you can get vaccinated and more.

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.

Why should I get vaccinated against COVID-19?

COVID-19 can cause serious, long-term health conditions, and sometimes death. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to help protect yourself, your family and the people around you.

When enough people in the community get immunised, it becomes more difficult for the virus to spread. This helps to protect people who are too young or too old to be vaccinated and those who can't be vaccinated for health reasons.

Eventually, if enough people in the community get immunised, the infection will no longer be able to spread. This would mean outbreaks are much less likely — and the need for preventative measures, such as travel restrictions, would decrease.

Is COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?

No — in Australia, you don’t have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. While the Australian Government supports immunisation, it’s not compulsory. Individuals can choose not to be vaccinated.

However, the Government aims to have as many Australians as possible immunised against COVID-19.

If you choose not to have a COVID-19 vaccination, this won’t affect your family's eligibility for Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A and the Child Care Subsidy (CCS). However, your child needs to receive their National Immunisation Program (NIP) vaccines (for those aged under 19 years) to be eligible for these benefits. Read more about the NIP here.

It’s possible that in the future you’ll need a COVID-19 vaccination to travel to certain destinations or to work in high-risk environments. If so, there’ll be exemptions for people who are unable to be vaccinated.

If you choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, you will need to consent to having one when you attend your COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

When you give consent, you give permission for someone to do something. The person giving you a COVID-19 vaccination must ask if you consent to being vaccinated.

They will also need to tell you:

  • why you should get the vaccine
  • why it’s safe
  • what will happen when you have it

You can talk to your doctor before you decide to have the COVID-19 vaccination. You may want to ask them questions, such as:

  • how it might affect any health problems you have
  • if there are any risks for you

You can also ask questions of the person who will vaccinate you. You can ask questions such as:

  • what will happen when I get the vaccination?
  • why do I need it?
  • how will I feel after I have it?
  • what could go wrong?
  • what will happen if I say no?

You can consent in different ways. You can:

  • say ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • use sign language
  • use pictures
  • sign a consent form

You can say ‘no’ if you don’t want the vaccination.

You can also bring someone you trust with you to your vaccination appointment. If you can’t consent, your guardian can consent for you. A guardian is a person who acts and makes decisions for you. Your guardian might be a member of your family, a friend or chosen for you by the government.

COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary for everyone in Australia — this includes aged-care residents. This means people can choose to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

If you are a resident in an aged-care facility and you decide not to have the COVID-19 vaccination, this will not affect your access to safe and quality care.

Valid consent is needed before each COVID-19 vaccination is given. Your residential aged-care facility will support you in your decision-making process to help you make an informed decision about vaccination. For some residents, consent will need to be sought from a substitute decision maker.

All residents, including those with a level of cognitive decline, should be included in conversations about consent to understand their preferences.

How much will COVID-19 vaccination cost?

COVID-19 vaccination is free to everyone living in Australia. This includes:

  • Australian citizens, permanent residents, holders of temporary visas and those not eligible for Medicare
  • refugees, asylum seekers, temporary protection visa holders and those on bridging visas
  • people currently in detention facilities including those whose visas have been cancelled

Healthcare providers won’t charge you any consultation fees associated with administration of the vaccine.

People who are not eligible for Medicare will be encouraged to attend a general practice respiratory clinic or state or territory vaccination clinic to receive their vaccine — when it is their turn.

What will happen when I get vaccinated?

At your first vaccination appointment, you will:

  • need to provide proof of your eligibility and confirm you agree to be vaccinated
  • have a clinical screening — which typically involves checking you don’t have a fever, cough or other symptoms
  • receive your first vaccination dose
  • be given follow-up information
  • have your vaccination recorded electronically so you can receive a reminder for your second dose — if you have a My Health Record, it can send you a reminder for your second dose
  • be monitored for around 15 minutes to make sure you don’t have any reactions to the vaccine — it’s common practice to wait after receiving a vaccine, including the flu vaccine

At your second appointment, you will be screened again to make sure you don’t have symptoms. You’ll also be monitored after receiving your second dose.

Steps for vaccination

Image provided by Australian Government Department of Health

So far, 2 vaccines have been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in Australia:

  • COMIRNATY, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 16 years and older
  • COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, for people aged 18 years and older

Both vaccines require 2 doses. The Novavax vaccine is awaiting approval from the TGA and this is also expected to be given in 2 doses.

Can I get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends that the Pfizer vaccine is given to adults under 50 years. The AstraZeneca vaccine should be given to people aged 50 and over.

ATAGI also recommends the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used in adults aged under 50 if the benefits outweigh the risks for that person — and if they make an informed decision based on the risks and benefits.

ATAGI further recommends that people who’ve had the first dose of AstraZeneca without any serious adverse effects can be given the second dose. This includes people aged under 50.

The Australian Government has always based its decisions on expert medical advice and has accepted ATAGI's recommendations.

ATAGI has issued these recommendations after noting further evidence of a very rare but serious side effect that involves blood clots with low blood platelet counts after AstraZeneca vaccination. The syndrome is called ‘thrombosis with thrombocytopenia’.

ATAGI’s advice is based on:

  • the increased risk of severe COVID-19 complications in older adults — and thus the benefit of this vaccination for this group; and
  • the potentially increased risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia after AstraZeneca vaccination in people under 50 years

The Australian Government's acceptance of the ATAGI advice will impact the vaccine rollout. However, the Government will work through these implications with the states and territories as an urgent priority.

It’s important to note that the AstraZeneca vaccine is still highly effective at preventing death and severe illness among people who have COVID-19 — and that this blood-clotting syndrome is very rare.

People aged 50 and over who are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1b can continue to get the AstraZeneca vaccination from their GP or a GP-led respiratory clinic (GPRC).

People aged 50 to 69 — who are part of Phase 2a of the vaccine rollout — can receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at GPRCs and state and territory COVID-19 vaccination sites, including mass vaccination sites.

From Monday 17 May 2021, this group will also be able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine from participating GPs.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and the influenza (flu) vaccine at the same time?

You can get either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine — but not on the same day. It’s best to wait at least 14 days between a dose of one of these vaccines before you have a dose of the other.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more advice on how to schedule vaccinations.

Can older or elderly people have the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (or TGA) has provisionally approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine COMIRNATY, for patients aged 16 years and older. There is no upper age limit, however, the Pfizer vaccine is being prioritised for people aged under 50.

People aged over 85 are extremely susceptible to the impacts of the COVID-19 infection and the benefits of vaccination are considered to outweigh any risks.

However, like any medical intervention in this group, the benefits of vaccination versus the potential impact of relatively mild adverse events — for example, fever and nausea — in the frail elderly should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.

In mid-January 2021, the TGA received reports of about 30 deaths in more than 40,000 elderly individuals in Norway vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. The deaths were recorded among very frail patients, including some who were anticipated to only have weeks or months to live.

However, no causal link between vaccination and deaths could be established by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The TGA has therefore concluded that there is no specific risk of vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in elderly patients. Regulators in North America, the UK and Europe reached a similar conclusion.

The AstraZeneca vaccine

The TGA has provisionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for people 18 years and over. There is no upper age limit. However, the Australian Government has accepted the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s (ATAGI) recommendation that the Pfizer vaccine be given to adults under 50 years, rather than the AstraZeneca vaccine.

ATAGI issued this advice after carefully considering the latest COVID-19 vaccination findings from Europe and the UK. ATAGI noted more evidence of a very rare but serious side effect that involves blood clots with low blood platelet counts after AstraZeneca vaccination. The syndrome is called ‘thrombosis with thrombocytopenia.

ATAGI’s advice is based on:

  • the increased risk of severe COVID-19 complications in older adults — which increases the benefit of this vaccination for this group; and
  • the potentially increased risk of blood clots with low blood platelet count after AstraZeneca vaccination in those under 50 years

For more information, see Can I get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

The TGA and ATAGI will continue to monitor the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines as they are rolled out in Australia and internationally.

Can pregnant or breastfeeding women have the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you are planning a pregnancy, it’s preferable that you receive the Pfizer vaccine. This is the recommended vaccine for adults younger than 50. However, you can still have the AstraZeneca vaccine if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for you.

For more information, see Can I get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

If you are already pregnant: the Australian Government Department of Health does not routinely recommend COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy.

You and your health provider can consider it if the potential benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks. You should consider having a COVID-19 vaccine during your pregnancy if:

  • you have medical risk factors for severe COVID-19
  • you are at high risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 or very likely to be in contact with people with COVID-19

You may prefer to wait until after your pregnancy to be vaccinated if:

  • you have no risk factors for severe COVID-19
  • you are not at high risk of exposure to COVID-19

However, if you receive the COVID-19 vaccination accidentally during pregnancy, it’s advised that a healthcare professional routinely monitor you for adverse events.

If you are breastfeeding, it’s preferable that you receive the Pfizer vaccine. This is the recommended vaccine for adults younger than 50. However, you can still have the AstraZeneca vaccine if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for you. You don’t need to stop breastfeeding before or after vaccination.

The Pfizer vaccine has not yet been tested in breastfeeding women, but there are no concerns about its safety either in breastfeeding women or their babies.

For more information, visit health.gov.au.

When and where will residents and workers at residential aged-care facilities receive their vaccination?

Phase 1a of the COVID-19 vaccination program has commenced — which includes residential aged-care facility residents and workers.

Aged-care residents are receiving the COVID-19 vaccination first as they’re the most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. They will receive the vaccination at their facility.

As the rollout continues, staff of residential aged-care facilities will begin to access their COVID-19 vaccination.

Aged-care staff will be able to access a COVID-19 vaccination through:

  • GP respiratory clinics: Aged-care workers can book an appointment now at the nearest clinic.
  • GP clinics through the online Vaccine Information and Location Service or directly through a participating GP clinic. Bookings can be made now subject to availability.
  • Dedicated aged-care worker clinics for residential aged care staff: Aged care workers will be able to book an appointment at these dedicated clinics. Details of the first of the pop-up locations and booking arrangements will be made available in early April 2021. More pop-up locations will follow.
  • Dedicated and Government approved in-reach vaccination clinics at some residential aged care facilities: Your residential aged care facility will be able to let you know if an in-reach clinic will be available.

When will disability-care workers and residents get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Phase 1a of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program — which includes disability-care residents and workers — has commenced. Both workers and residents will get the vaccine at their disability-care facility.

During Phase 1a, people who are eligible to receive the vaccine will generally be contacted by their employer or their residential-care facility.

A Commonwealth vaccine in-reach team will provide the vaccine to disability care residents. More information will be provided to the facility before the vaccination team arrives.

Adults with a disability who have a specified underlying medical condition (but who don’t reside in a disability-care facility) are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1b of rollout, which has also commenced.

Now that Phase 1b has commenced, people who were eligible in Phase 1a and are awaiting their vaccination can make their own booking via the Vaccine Eligibility Checker.

This free online tool will first ask you some questions to confirm your eligibility. You'll then be able to find clinics near you that offer a COVID-19 vaccine and to book your appointment.

For more information about underlying medical conditions and eligibility during Phase 1b, visit health.gov.au.

Who will get the COVID-19 vaccine when?

The vaccine is being rolled out in Australia in phases. The rollout started with priority populations — since large volumes of the vaccine weren’t immediately available. Certain groups are prioritised because they would be most affected if infected with COVID-19. These priority groups may change as more information becomes available.

To find out if you’re eligible for a vaccination now, use the Vaccine Eligibility Checker. If it’s your turn, you can also find a vaccination provider near you and book an appointment.

Phase 1a — up to 1.4 million doses — commenced 22 February (ongoing)

Population group Approximate number of people
Quarantine and border workers 70,000
Frontline healthcare worker sub-groups 100,000
Aged-care and disability-care staff 318,000
Aged-care and disability-care residents 190,000

Phase 1b — up to 14.8 million doses — commenced 22 March (ongoing)

Population group Approximate number of people
Elderly adults aged 80 years and older 1,045,000
Elderly adults aged 70-79 years 1,858,000
Other healthcare workers 953,000
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and older 99,000
Adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability 2,000,000
Clinical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing 196,000
Household contacts of quarantine and border workers 105,000

Phase 2a — up to 15.8 million doses

Population group Approximate number of people
Adults aged 60-69 years 2,650,000
Adults aged 50-59 years 3,080,000
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 to 49 years 375,000
Other critical and high-risk workers 453,000

Phase 2b — up to 16 million doses

Population group Approximate number of people
People aged 16-49 7,223,000

Phase 3 — up to 13.6 million doses

Population group Approximate number of people
People younger than 16, if recommended 5,090,00

Video provided by Australian Government Department of Health

Where can I get vaccinated against COVID-19?

GP respiratory clinics (GPRCs), state vaccination clinics, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and GP clinics that have registered to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program have begun providing COVID-19 vaccinations.

The number of sites offering the vaccine is expected to grow to more than 4,000 Australia-wide.

If you're included in Phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, you can find a vaccination provider and make an appointment via the Vaccine Eligibility Checker online tool. The checker will first ask you some questions to confirm your eligibility. You can then look up clinics near you that offer a COVID-19 vaccine and book your appointment.

Some priority groups, including frontline quarantine and healthcare workers, are already going to hospital ‘vaccination hubs’ to get vaccinated. Healthcare teams will also collect the vaccine from these hubs and take them to aged-care and disability-care facilities so they can vaccinate residents there.

To receive the vaccine, you’ll need to provide proof of eligibility, confirm you agree to be vaccinated, and have a clinical screening.

Only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in 16- and 17-year-olds. Use the Vaccine Eligibility Checker to learn how to book your vaccination. It may not be available to you yet. Please check health.gov.au for up-to-date information.

Can I get the first and second dose of a COVID-19 vaccination in a different state or country?

You don’t have to get your second dose at the same location. This includes if you are travelling interstate.

Your first dose of the vaccine will be recorded in the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), so your vaccination provider will be able to check which vaccine you received, and when you received that first dose.

To be fully vaccinated, you must have two doses of the same vaccine, given at the appropriate dosing schedule.

  • If you get the Pfizer vaccine, you'll need 2 doses, administered 21 days apart
  • If you get the AstraZeneca vaccine, you'll need 2 doses, administered 4 to 12 weeks apart. However, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended the interval between the first and second dose be 12 weeks.

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine overseas

Australians who get their first vaccine dose overseas and return to Australia before their second dose will be able to get their second dose in Australia, if the first dose was for a vaccine available in Australia such as the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine.

If you’ve had immunisations in another country, you can have them added to the AIR. Your documents need to be in English and show what immunisations you’ve had. You’ll then need to take these to a recognised vaccination provider in Australia. You can ask them to:

  • check if the immunisations you’ve had match the National Immunisation Program
  • help you to catch up if you’re missing any immunisations
  • add your overseas immunisations to the AIR

These immunisations will then be on your immunisation history statement.

If your documents aren’t in English, you need to get them translated. You can use a free translating service on the on the Department of Home Affairs website if you’re settling in Australia or if you’re already living here permanently.

More information on overseas immunisation is available via Services Australia.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine from my regular doctor or local pharmacy?

GP clinics and pharmacies need to register to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program because they need to meet certain requirements for how they store and deliver the vaccine.

GP clinics are able to participate in Phase 1b of the program, and pharmacies from Phase 2a, expected to begin in May 2021.

You can find a vaccination provider and make an appointment via the Vaccine Eligibility Checker online tool on the Department of Health website. The checker will first ask you some questions to confirm your eligibility. You can then look up clinics near you that offer a COVID-19 vaccine and book your appointment.

More questions about COVID-19 vaccines

Click on the links below for more questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines.


Resources in other languages

COVID-19 vaccination resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, or use these COVID-19 tools and resources:

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2021


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