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Getting the COVID-19 vaccination

15-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.

How much will COVID-19 vaccination cost?

COVID-19 vaccination will be 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

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?

Priority groups are in the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. These groups are being vaccinated at hospital hubs across Australia or by healthcare teams at aged-care and disability-care facilities.

People in later phases of the rollout will be able to get vaccinated at GP respiratory clinics, approved general practices, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, approved pharmacies, state-run vaccination clinics and approved workplaces.

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.

At your first 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 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 cap on the upper age limit.

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 or people aged over 18 years. There is no cap on the upper age limit.

There were no safety concerns for elderly patients aged over 65 in the clinical studies for the AstraZeneca vaccine — nor in the large numbers of elderly people who have been vaccinated to date in overseas rollouts.

The decision to immunise an elderly patient should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Their age, co-morbidities and their environment should be taken into account when weighing up the benefits of vaccination and potential risks.

The TGA 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, you can receive the Pfizer vaccine, COMIRNATY. You don’t need to avoid becoming pregnant before or after vaccination — there’s no evidence that women who become pregnant after being vaccinated against COVID-19 have an increased risk of developing complications that affect their pregnancy or their baby’s health. You are not required to have a pregnancy test before getting vaccinated.

If you become pregnant after your first dose, you might choose to have the second dose during pregnancy, or you might choose to wait until after your pregnancy. It is important to note that the first dose may only provide partial protection against COVID-19, and this protection may be short-lived. You will only have full protection after 2 doses.

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

For more information, visit health.gov.au.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will be advising the Government about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine in pregnant and breastfeeding women soon. This advice will be provided as soon as it is received.

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

The first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program — which includes residential aged-care facility residents and workers — has commenced.

In the first week of vaccination, approximately 30,000 Pfizer vaccines will be made available for the Commonwealth vaccine in-reach workforce to aged-care and disability care residents.

The TGA has also provisionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, called COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. The Government expects to start rolling out this vaccine in early March.

You’ll receive more information before the vaccination team comes to your site.

Both workers and residents will get the vaccine at their residential aged-care facility.

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

The Australian COVID-19 vaccination program will begin with priority groups, including disability-care workers and residents.

Priority population groups have started to receive the Pfizer vaccine, COMIRNATY.

In the first week of vaccination, approximately 30,000 Pfizer vaccines will be made available for the Commonwealth vaccine in-reach workforce to aged-care and disability care residents.

The TGA has also provisionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, called COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. The Government expects to start rolling out this vaccine in early March.

It’s important that you continue to practise hand hygiene and physical distancing — and follow your state or territory’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Who will get the COVID-19 vaccine first?

The vaccine is being rolled out in Australia in phases, starting with priority populations — since large volumes of the vaccine aren’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.

Phase 1a — up to 1.4 million doses

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
Total number of people 678,000

Phase 1b — up to 14.8 million doses

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 peoples aged 55 and older 87,000
Younger adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability 2,000,000
Clinical and high-risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing 196,000
Total number of people 6,139,000

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 peoples aged 16 to 54 years 387,000
Other critical and high-risk workers 453,000
Total number of people 6,570,000

Phase 2b — up to 29.6 million doses

Population group Approximate number of people
Balance of adult population 6,643,000
Catch up any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases
People younger than 16, if recommended

Video provided by Australian Government Department of Health

Where can I get vaccinated against COVID-19?

Up to 50 vaccination ‘hubs’ are being established at hospitals across Australia initially. Eventually there will be more than 1,000 vaccine distribution points nationwide.

Some priority groups, including frontline quarantine and healthcare workers, will go to these hospital sites 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 when you check in at the hospital hub.

As the program progresses and depending on the advice of each state and territory, vaccinations will become available at:

  • GP respiratory clinics
  • Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services
  • general practices (GPs)
  • state vaccination clinics
  • community pharmacies
  • workplace vaccination sites

Once priority and higher-risk populations — such as older Australians — have been vaccinated, there will likely be a number of sites at which you can receive the vaccine.

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 will be able to participate from Phase 1b of the program — expected to begin in March 2021 — and pharmacies from Phase 2a — expected to begin in May 2021.

When you are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, speak to your local GP or pharmacy to find out if they are taking part in the national rollout.

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: February 2021


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