THE Melbourne outbreak is a timely reminder that COVID-19 remains an ongoing, ever-present threat, University of Newcastle virologist Nathan Bartlett says.
Associate Professor Bartlett said until the majority of the population is vaccinated, we are "sitting ducks" vulnerable to outbreaks, lockdowns, severe illness and death.
"It would be absolutely heartbreaking for that to happen when there is a perfectly good vaccine available, but people are holding back," he said.
Vaccination hotlines and websites were inundated by Victorians rushing to get in the queue on Thursday following the news Melbourne was headed for another lockdown. But given the ongoing concern, confusion and hesitancy within the community, Associate Bartlett has addressed some of the most common myths and questions here.
I'm holding out for the Pfizer vaccine because it's safer and more effective.
Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer are excellent vaccines that confer very high level of protection from severe disease. They are also both very safe vaccines - and certainly the risk of a vaccine-related adverse event is much lower than the risk of severe COVID-19, particularly for those 50 years and older. Current events in Melbourne have confirmed what experts have been saying for months - while the majority of Australians remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 outbreaks are inevitable. With the official start of winter ahead, events in Melbourne are a timely reminder of this. The situation is urgent and we are certainly not in a position to "hold out" when there are excellent vaccines readily available.
The vaccine won't stop me from getting COVID-19, so what's the point?
Simply not true - both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine are incredibly effective at preventing severe COVID-19. As well as preventing people getting sick - which reduces burden on health care systems - the vaccines also reduce transmission and therefore reduce the risk of you infecting others
There is no COVID in the community, why risk it?
While the majority of people are unvaccinated, COVID-19 in the community is inevitable.
I'm at risk of blood clots. I'll wait for Pfizer.
Health conditions that increase risk of blood clots are common, and there is no evidence that these conditions are associated with the very rare AstraZeneca vaccine-induced blood clots.
For those with health conditions or on medications that affect clotting, I'd recommend discussing your options with your GP or immunologist. The risk of COVID-19-induced blood clots is much higher than that linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
If there is a risk that AstraZeneca could cause deadly clots, why does my age group have to get it?
For those over 50 the risk of AstraZeneca vaccine-induced blood clots are extremely low and much lower than the risk of severe COVID-19. Even if you are unlucky enough to develop a blood clot, there are effective treatments, and the chance you will die is extremely low. There have been 24 reported cases in Australia, one fatality. You are putting yourself at much greater risk of disease or death by not getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.
If I can still pass on COVID-19 after having the vaccine, what's the point?
The primary objective of vaccination is to protect you from severe disease, and keep you out of hospital - thereby protecting health care systems. There is now good data that shows that vaccinated people are much less likely to pass on the virus - so we now know that benefit of vaccination extends to reduced risk of transmission.
These vaccines have been too rushed. I want to wait to see if there are long-term side-effects.
It has been over a year since the first people received COVID-19 vaccines as part of clinical trials. People involved in those trials will be continue to be monitored for emergence of long term side effects - the fact nothing has been reported at 12 months post-vaccination is a good sign.
What if getting the vaccine affects my fertility or my chances of getting pregnant?
As I said above - it has been over a year since clinical trials. There has been no reports of any effect on pregnancy/birth rates.
I've just turned 50. Why is it suddenly safe for me to have AstraZeneca when a few months ago I would have been at a higher risk of clotting and been given Pfizer?
That is not what the significance of 50 years of age cut off is - the primary driver of this decision is the risk of more severe COVID-19. Over 50 years of age that risk increases substantially. The limited data - because numbers of cases are very small - we have on vaccine-induced blood clots indicates that that the very low risk is slightly higher in younger adults.
What will happen if we don't have enough people vaccinated?
Outbreaks will occur. People will become sick - some critically, and some will die. Hospitals will be strained which will compromise treatment for other illnesses. Then there is the huge societal and economic impacts caused by outbreak-triggered lockdowns and restrictions, national and international boarder closures. Australia is still reeling from a year of this and these measures are not a sustainable strategy for controlling COVID-19 in this country. The ONLY way we will regain control of our lives is through vaccination.
How soon after the jab would I start getting symptoms of a clot?
Symptoms usually appear between four and 20 days after vaccination. Symptoms include severe headache, blurred vision, chest or abdominal pain, leg swelling, and unusual bruising. Doctors are now hyper-vigilant for these symptoms and effective treatments are available.
Will the vaccine change my DNA?
No. The DNA delivered by the AZ vaccine is used by your cells to make SARS-CoV2 spike protein. This vaccine DNA does not interact with your DNA to do this - and certainly doesn't change it.