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About the COVID-19 vaccines

12-minute read

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

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Which COVID-19 vaccines are available in Australia?

The COVID-19 vaccines that are provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and available in Australia are:

  • Comirnaty, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, provisionally approved for people aged 5 years and older. People aged 12 and older need to receive 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, at least 21 days apart, to complete the primary course. Children aged 5 to 11 need to receive 2 lower doses at least 8 weeks apart to complete the primary course.
  • Vaxzevria, the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, provisionally approved for people aged 18 years and older. This vaccine is given in 2 doses, 4 to 12 weeks apart.
  • Spikevax, the Moderna Australia vaccine, provisionally approved for people aged 6 years and older. People who are 12 years and older should receive 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine, 4 to 6 weeks apart. Children aged 6 to 11 years should receive 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine, 8 weeks apart.
  • Nuvaxovid, the Novavax vaccine, provisionally approved for people aged 18 years and older. It’s recommended that this vaccine is given in 2 doses at least 3 weeks apart.

The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen — has been provisionally approved, but isn’t currently being used in Australia’s vaccine rollout.

More information on the COVID-19 vaccines that are approved in Australia is available on the Department of Health website.

BOOK YOUR VACCINATION — Use the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder to book your COVID vaccination or booster.

Need help booking your COVID-19 vaccine appointment?

Text Hey EVA to 0481 611 382. Someone from the National Coronavirus Helpline will call you back and find you a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

EVA (Easy Vaccine Access) is available every day from 7am to 10pm (AEST) with free interpreting assistance.

Which COVID-19 vaccines are available for children?

The TGA has provisionally approved:

  • Pfizer's Comirnaty vaccine for use in people aged 5 years and over
  • Moderna's Spikevax vaccine for use in people aged 6 and over

The AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) and Nuvaxovid (Novavax) vaccines are not registered for use in children under 18 years of age.

It's recommended that children aged 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect them from getting severe sickness from COVID-19, reduce the spread of virus between themselves and to adults, prevent other complications such as 'long COVID', and to reduce disruptions to schooling and other learning.

Parents and carers can use the Vaccine Clinic Finder to book their child's vaccination. New clinics and appointments are added to the Vaccine Clinic Finder all the time, so check back later if you're having difficulty finding a location.

Why are the Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax vaccines preferred for people aged 59 and under?

There is a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a very rare condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). The risk of this occurring is slightly higher in younger adults than in older adults.

Therefore, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends that the Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax vaccines are the preferred vaccines for people aged 59 and under.

TTS typically occurs around 4 to 42 days after AstraZeneca vaccination and can be treated very effectively.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

All vaccines are thoroughly tested for safety before they’re approved by the TGA for use in Australia.

As part of the Australian Government’s Department of Health, the TGA is responsible for regulating all therapeutic goods, including prescription medicines, vaccines, sunscreens, vitamins and minerals, medical devices, blood and blood products. Testing involves carefully analysing clinical trial data, ingredients, manufacturing processes and other factors.

Even after you receive a vaccine, it’s still monitored for safety.

If you have any questions about vaccination, talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional. They can also give feedback to the TGA about any side effects — even if they’re minor. This will help the TGA oversee the safety of vaccines. In the unlikely event that a safety risk develops, the TGA will inform healthcare providers, the community and the Australian Government as soon as possible.

How do different COVID-19 vaccines work?

Vaccines train your immune system to quickly recognise and get rid of the bacteria or viruses that can cause serious illnesses. There are many types of vaccines being developed to protect us against COVID-19. They are all designed to generate an immune response specific to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Most COVID-19 vaccines use the coronavirus ‘spike’ protein to cause this immune response. The immune system recognises this spike protein as ‘foreign’ and starts producing long-lasting immune cells and antibodies.

If a vaccinated person becomes exposed to COVID-19 later on, the immune system will be able to launch a faster and better response to protect against the disease.

Important: these vaccines do not contain the live or whole virus that causes COVID-19.

This is how the common types of COVID-19 vaccine work.

Messenger RNA (mRNA)

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are examples of an mRNA vaccine. This vaccine uses a genetic code, called messenger-RNA (mRNA), to trigger the production of the COVID-19-specific spike protein.

The mRNA from the vaccine enters the cytoplasm of the body’s cells. The cells use the instructions contained in the mRNA to make the spike protein. Immune cells can then recognise the spike protein as foreign and begin building an immune response against it.

Important: messenger-RNA can’t change or interact with a person’s DNA in any way.

Clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine show that this vaccine triggers antibodies that can respond to a range of coronavirus mutations.

Protein

The Novavax vaccine is an example of a protein-based vaccine. This uses a non-infectious component of COVID-19, usually the spike protein.

This protein is found on the surface of the virus and can be manufactured in a laboratory. When the vaccine enters the body, immune cells recognise the spike protein as foreign and begin building an immune response against it.

Vector

The AstraZeneca vaccine is an example of a viral vector vaccine. These types of vaccines use a harmless, weakened animal virus that contains the genetic code for a protein unique to COVID-19, usually the spike protein.

This weakened animal virus is known as a ‘viral vector’. Once the viral vector enters the body, immune cells then recognise the spike protein as foreign and begin building an immune response against it.

Do COVID-19 vaccines stop transmission of the virus?

Data from the United Kingdom and Finland show that the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do reduce onward transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to a degree.

One UK study found that the AstraZeneca vaccine was 48% effective, and the Pfizer vaccine was 46% effective, at preventing onward transmission to household contacts of vaccinated people who had breakthrough infections. Another study from the UK in healthcare workers found that the Pfizer vaccine was associated with a 54% reduction in transmission to household members.

A study from Finland, in healthcare workers who had received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, found that the vaccines were 43% effective against transmission to unvaccinated household contacts.

Can I choose which vaccine I receive?

Four vaccines — Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax — are available across Australia. However, not all participating vaccination clinics, GP’s and pharmacists have all of the available vaccines to choose from.

The Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax vaccines are preferred over AstraZeneca for people aged under 60 years. However, adults aged 18 to 59 years can receive the AstraZeneca vaccine if they have weighed up the benefits and the risks and provide informed consent. Talk to your doctor or immunisation provider to help inform your decision.

There is no brand preference for people aged 60 years and older.

ATAGI recommends using the same COVID-19 vaccine for the 2 doses needed to complete your primary vaccination course, unless you have a specific medical condition, must take precautions or if the same vaccine brand is not available in Australia.

A different brand can also be used for the second dose in these cases. Emerging data support the safety and efficacy of mixed schedules.

More information on receiving a mixed schedule of COVID-19 vaccines is available on the Department of Health website.

What’s the difference between a booster dose and a primary vaccine course?

A primary vaccine course involves the vaccine doses you need for very good protection against a disease. A booster dose is an extra vaccine dose that is given after you complete the primary course to boost your protection against the disease.

In Australia, a primary COVID-19 vaccine course consists of 2 doses of the following COVID-19 vaccines: Comirnaty (Pfizer), Spikevax (Moderna), Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) and Nuvaxovid (Novavax), or 1 dose of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine — also known as Johnson & Johnson (the latter is registered, but not available, in Australia).

Mixed doses are also included in the definition of an acceptable primary course, as are additional TGA-recognised vaccines.

For people with severe immunocompromise aged 5 years and older, a primary course is defined as 3 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A booster dose refers to an additional vaccine dose after you’ve completed the primary vaccine course.

Getting a booster dose is not mandatory for most people, but to maintain protection against COVID-19, it’s recommended that you have a booster dose.

You are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you are 16 years or older and completed your primary course at least 3 months ago.

Learn more about who is eligible for third doses and additional booster doses.

How have the COVID-19 vaccines been developed so quickly?

The urgency of the pandemic has meant that all available resources and efforts have been directed towards finding effective vaccines.

Globally, some COVID-19 vaccines were approved and administered just 12 months after the virus was discovered. Usually, development of a vaccine takes several years. Some of the reasons behind this rapid progress include:

  • The levels of funding and collaboration between vaccine developers and governments are greater than ever before. Planning began early, including investment in manufacturing facilities before a vaccine was even available.
  • Technology makes vaccine development faster than in the past. To develop a vaccine, scientists need to understand the virus’s genetic code. New technology allowed researchers to quickly identify the genetic code of the COVID-19 virus soon after it emerged. This allowed scientists around the world to start designing and building vaccines.
  • Clinical trials progress more quickly if a disease is widespread, which is the case for COVID-19 in many countries. This means researchers can evaluate the effect of a vaccine on both unvaccinated and vaccinated groups much sooner than they’d be able with a rare disease.

For more information on the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, go to health.gov.au and click on ‘COVID-19 vaccines’.

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

Last reviewed: May 2022


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