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Getting the COVID-19 vaccination

22-minute read

The COVID-19 vaccine is available to all Australians. Read about side effects, restrictions, travel and more.

If you develop severe symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have 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 are immunised, it's 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, this would mean outbreaks are less likely — and the need for preventative measures, such as travel restrictions, would decrease.

COVID-19 vaccination is free for 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 the administration of the vaccine.

Who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination?

People aged 5 years and over are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

People aged less than 5 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

There are 3 COVID-19 vaccines that are available in Australia: the Comirnaty (Pfizer), Spikevax (Moderna) and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) vaccines.

The Nuvaxovid (Novavax) vaccine is expected to be available in Australia at the end of February 2022. People aged 18 and over will be able to receive this vaccine.

People aged 5 and over can access the Pfizer vaccine.

People aged 12 years and over can access the Moderna vaccine.

People can access the AstraZeneca vaccine if they are:

  • 60 years old and over
  • 18 to 59 years old and have chosen to have the AstraZeneca vaccine after discussing this with their health professional

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) notes a slightly higher risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) in younger people. TTS is a very rare blood-clotting condition that's been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Because older people can get very sick from COVID-19, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine vastly outweigh the risk of TTS for people aged 60 and older.

People who have had the first dose of AstraZeneca without any serious adverse effects — and have no other contraindications — can be given the second dose. This includes adults under 60 years.

You can make an appointment using the Vaccine Clinic Finder.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to book an appointment via your state or territory government's website or COVID-19 hotline. Check your state or territory government's Department of Health website for more information.

Do I need a third dose or a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine?

Third doses

ATAGI recommends a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as part of the primary vaccination course in people aged 5 years and over who are severely immunocompromised. This is to address the risk of a suboptimal- or non-response to the standard 2-dose schedule.

An mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) is preferred to Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) for this third dose.

Third doses are not the same as booster doses.

The recommended interval for a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is 2 to 6 months after the second dose. A minimum interval of 4 weeks may be considered in exceptional circumstances (for example, if there’s anticipated intensification of immunosuppression or during outbreaks). People who have had a second dose more than 6 months ago should receive a third dose whenever feasible.

The immunocompromising conditions and therapies for which a third dose is recommended are listed here.

Anyone with an unlisted condition should only be considered for a third dose if the treating physician has assessed the patient as having a similar level of severe immunocompromised to the listed conditions — and where the benefits of a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks.

People who aren’t currently severely immunocompromised, but who will commence significant immunosuppressive therapy 2 weeks or more after their second dose, don’t require a third dose. It can be expected that an adequate response to 2 doses will be achieved.

The third dose is intended to maximise the level of immune response to as close as possible to the general population.

ATAGI doesn’t recommend subsequent doses beyond the third dose of the primary COVID-19 vaccination course at this time. Many patients who fail to respond to third doses may not respond to further doses.

Protection from 3 doses in severely immunocompromised people may still be lower than the general population. People should continue risk mitigation strategies such as mask wearing and social distancing even after having a third dose.

For more information, read the ATAGI statement on third doses in people who are severely immunocompromised on the Australian Government’s Department of Health website.

Booster doses

If you’re 18 years or older and you’ve completed your COVID-19 vaccine primary course at least 4 months ago (in some states it’s now 3 months), you’re eligible for a booster dose. Check your state and territory for more information.

If you’re 18 years and older and severely immunocompromised, it is recommended that you receive a booster dose 4 months (in some states it’s now 3 months) after you complete your primary course.

Getting a booster dose is not mandatory many — but it’s recommended to maintain protection against COVID-19, and severe illness and dying from COVID-19.

Booster doses are free for everyone.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) as a COVID-19 booster dose. You can have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as a booster regardless of which vaccine brand you had for your first 2 doses.

Although not preferred, you can also receive the Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) as a booster dose if:

  • you’ve received AstraZeneca for your first 2 doses — if there are no contraindications or precautions for use
  • if you’ve experienced a significant adverse reaction after a previous mRNA vaccine dose (Pfizer or Spikevax (Moderna)) — for example, anaphylaxis or myocarditis

Booster doses are not currently recommended for people aged 5 to 17 years — recommendations for this age group will be made in due course.

The Nuvaxovid (Novavax) vaccine is not currently registered for use as a booster dose in Australia.

For more information, read the ATAGI recommendations on the use of a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine on the Australian Government’s Department of Health website.

Is COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?

Vaccination is not compulsory for most Australians. But if you work in certain industries, you may need a vaccination to keep attending your workplace.

The Australian Government has made vaccination mandatory for residential aged-care workers. These workers must have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by now to work at a residential aged-care facility. Aged-care facilities must report all vaccinations of their aged-care workers.

Different states and territories may have their own requirements for workers to be vaccinated including quarantine, healthcare, construction and education workers. Check your state or territory government’s Department of Health website for more information.

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.

You may need a COVID-19 vaccination to travel to certain destinations. Exemptions are in place 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.

‘Consent’ means giving 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.

Consent on behalf of a child or an adolescent

Generally, a parent or legal guardian of a child can consent to that child being vaccinated.

A child or adolescent may be mature enough to understand vaccination, and the risks and benefits associated with it. These young people may have the capacity to consent under certain circumstances.

As states and territories manage consent to medical treatment for children differently, you’ll need to check the rules with your state or territory immunisation health service. Go to health.gov.au. Click on ‘Health topics’ and search ‘immunisation’.

What happens if a resident at an aged-care facility doesn't consent to the COVID-19 vaccination?

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 making 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 does 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.

How do I make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination?

Vaccines are being delivered through a combination of Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics (CVSs), general practices (GPs), state- and territory-run vaccination clinics, pharmacies and Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services.

Residential aged-care and disability-care facilities may receive vaccines through a combination of delivery options. This includes in-reach vaccination providers who deliver the vaccine on site.

The easiest way to make an appointment is by using the Vaccine Clinic Finder. This free online tool will ask you some questions to find vaccine appointments that suit your needs. You can then find clinics near you that offer a COVID-19 vaccine and book your appointment.

If there are no appointments available, try again as more appointments will become available. New vaccination sites are being added to the Vaccine Clinic Finder.

You can also ask your GP or your local pharmacy if they’re participating in the vaccine rollout.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to book an appointment via your state or territory government’s website or COVID-19 hotline. Check your state or territory government’s health department website for more information.

For more information, read ‘How will I get my COVID-19 vaccine?’ on the Department of Health website.

Will I need to have a COVID-19 vaccination to go to a residential aged-care facility?

Generally, you don’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit a resident at an aged-care facility. However, some states and territories have made it a requirement for visitors to have received a COVID-19 vaccination before they enter facilities.

All visitors must continue to follow restrictions — even if residents and staff of the facility have been vaccinated.

For up-to-date information on aged care and vaccination, check the Department of Health website.

How do disability-care workers and residents get their vaccination?

Workers and residents can get the vaccine at their disability-care facility. They’ll generally be contacted by their employer or their facility to arrange this.

A Commonwealth vaccine in-reach team will provide the vaccine to disability-care residents.

Adults with a disability and those with a specified underlying medical condition (but who don’t reside in a disability-care facility) can also arrange to have a vaccination. You can make your own booking via the Vaccine Clinic Finder.

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
  • need to bring your Medicare card if you have one
  • have a clinical screening — which typically involves checking that you don’t have a fever, cough or other symptoms
  • receive your first vaccination dose
  • be given follow-up information
  • if you use My Health Record, you can check your record to see when your second vaccination is due
  • 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

How do I get vaccinated if I don't have Medicare?

If you currently don’t have a Medicare account — and you are eligible — you can register at Services Australia.

If you are not eligible for Medicare, you should have your vaccination at a Commonwealth Vaccination Clinic (CVC) — formerly known as GP-led respiratory clinics — or a state- or territory-run vaccination clinic.

If you need proof of your immunisation, you can register for an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI). While an IHI is not mandatory, it’s preferred. An IHI is a unique number that is used to identify you for healthcare purposes. It also allows your vaccinations to be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).

When you have your IHI, you can register for a My Health Record — an online summary of your health information, including your immunisation history.

To apply for an IHI, visit servicesaustralia.gov.au/. For more information, call Services Australia on 1300 361 457, Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5.00pm (local time). You’ll need to provide certified copies of proof of identification documents.

To find out how to register for a My Health Record, visit digitalhealth.gov.au, or call the My Health Record helpline on 1800 723 471, 24/7. Registering for a My Health Record can take up to an additional 10 business days and you will need to provide certified copies of proof of identification documents.

For more information, see ‘How do I access my vaccination certificate and how do I prove vaccination without Medicare?

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine and another vaccine (such as the flu shot) at the same time?

You can have both a COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot on the same day. Studies have shown that both vaccines produce an appropriate immune response. However, receiving 2 different vaccines on the same day may increase your chances of having a mild to moderate reaction (adverse event).

COVID-19 vaccines can also be given at the same time as other vaccines, but there is limited research, so it’s still recommended to wait a few days between vaccinations.

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

Can people with chronic health conditions have COVID-19 vaccines?

People aged 5 years and older with chronic health conditions can receive a COVID-19 vaccination. People with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems are at greater risk of more serious illness if they get COVID-19. However, people with certain medical conditions should speak with their healthcare provider for advice on their particular situation.

For more information, see the Australian’s Government’s COVID-19 vaccination decision guide for people with immunocompromise.

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

Yes, older people are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved Pfizer for people aged 5 years and older. There is no upper age limit.

However, Pfizer is being prioritised for people aged 5 to 59. This is because the risk of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) — which is linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine — is slightly higher in younger adults.

People aged 60 and over are being offered AstraZeneca. Those aged over 85, in particular, are extremely susceptible to the impacts of the COVID-19 infection and the benefits of vaccination are considered to outweigh any risks.

Access may differ between states and territories so you should check your state health department for the latest information.

The TGA and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (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?

Planning a pregnancy

If you are planning a pregnancy, it’s recommended that you have either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — the preferred vaccines for people aged 12 to 59.

However, you can still have AstraZeneca if you are 18 to 59, have weighed up the risks and benefits, and have provided consent. You should talk to your GP or vaccination provider to help inform your decision.

You don’t need to avoid becoming pregnant before or after vaccination.

During pregnancy

If you are already pregnant and aged 12 or older, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is recommended for you at any stage of pregnancy.

It’s recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is the advice of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

The risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby.

Global surveillance data from large numbers of pregnant women has not identified any significant safety concerns with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines — such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — given at any stage of pregnancy. There is also evidence that vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding may offer protection to babies.

If you’ve already received a first dose of AstraZeneca, your second dose can be either AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna.

You can also have the Nuvaxovid (Novavax) vaccine if you’re pregnant. This vaccine is expected to be available in Australia in late February 2022.

There’s no data on the safety of Novavax vaccine in pregnant or breastfeeding women. But there are no theoretical safety concerns about receiving Novavax during pregnancy because it’s not a live vaccine.

If you have a specific health concern or you would prefer a full health assessment, you should book your vaccination through your GP or healthcare provider.

Breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding, it’s recommended that you have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — the preferred vaccines for people aged 12 to 59. However, you can still have the AstraZeneca vaccine if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for you.

You can also have the Nuvaxovid (Novavax) vaccine if you’re breastfeeding. This vaccine is expected to be available in Australia in late February 2022.

You don’t need to stop breastfeeding before or after vaccination. There is evidence that vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding may offer protection to babies.

For more information, visit health.gov.au.

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.

ATAGI, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, recommends using the same COVID-19 vaccine for both doses of the primary vaccination course, unless there are specific medical conditions or precautions, or the same vaccine brand is not available in Australia.

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, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines.

If you received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine that’s not available in Australia while overseas, you can be offered a different brand to complete the primary vaccination course in Australia.

If you’ve had these vaccines in another country, you can have them added to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR). Your documents need to be in English and show which vaccine you’ve had. You’ll need to take these documents to a recognised vaccination provider in Australia to have them added to your immunisation history statement (IHS).

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.

At this time, COVID-19 vaccinations received overseas that have not been approved or recognised in Australia can’t be added to the AIR. If you’ve received mixed doses of approved or recognised vaccines, you can also have these recorded to the AIR.

More information on overseas immunisation is available via Services Australia.

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

Yes, providing your GP or pharmacist has registered to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program.

You can find a vaccination provider and make an appointment using the Vaccine Clinic Finder. It will ask you some questions, then 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, including vaccinations and restrictions.

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

Last reviewed: January 2022


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