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Exactly how to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in Australia.

After a sluggish start to the national COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the rates of Australians getting the jab is steadily climbing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that he believes the rollout will be complete by the end of 2021.

"I would expect by Christmas that we would be seeing a very different Australia to what we are seeing now," he told reporters in late July. "Lockdowns become a thing of the past when you're at that level."

If you're yet to get your jab, here's what you need to know about which one you can receive, where and when.

Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine right now?

The Federal Government has established a vaccination rollout plan that prioritises the most vulnerable members of our community.

Currently, vaccines are available to:

  • people aged 40 and over;
  • people aged 16-39 who elect to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine;
  • pregnant people;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • people with an underlying medical condition or significant disability;
  • quarantine and border workers, and their household contacts;
  • aged care and disability care workers and residents;
  • healthcare workers;
  • critical and high-risk workers, including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing;
  • people with an Australian Border Force outwards travel exemption in an eligible category.

Who gets Pfizer and who gets AstraZeneca?

Both vaccines are approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. That means they have met strict standards and have been deemed safe and effective. 

A body of experts called the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) reviews data and information on these vaccines weekly and issues recommendations to the Federal Government based on its findings.

Under their current recommendations...

Pfizer should be prioritised for:

  • people under 60;
  • pregnant women;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 and over;
  • NDIS participants or unpaid or informal carers of NDIS participants of any age;
  • quarantine or border workers;
  • health care workers;
  • aged care or disability care resident or workers;
  • people with an underlying medical condition or significant disability;
  • critical or high-risk workers, including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing;
  • people with an Australian Border Force outwards travel exemption in an eligible category.

And AstraZeneca should be prioritised for:

  • people aged 60 and over who don't meet the above criteria.

However, people aged under 60 who don't wish to wait for the Pfizer vaccine (which is in more limited supply) can choose to receive the AstraZeneca jab:

  • following an appropriate assessment of suitability by a qualified health professional; and
  • if you provide verbal or written consent.

Plus... In Sydney: Year 12 students aged 16-18 in the LGAs of Cumberland, Canterbury-Bankstown, Blacktown, Liverpool, Fairfield, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Georges River will be offered Pfizer. This is part of a plan to get NSW Year 12 students back in classrooms by August 16 to complete their HSC year. (The Government has not yet announced plans to vaccinate younger students, and those in Greater Sydney will continue learning from home for the duration of the lockdown.)

Why are AstraZeneca and Pfizer recommended for different age groups?

This is because the AstraZeneca vaccine has been associated with an extremely rare side effect: a blood clotting condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

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According to the most recent data from the TGA, there have been 87 cases of probable TTS among 6.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered to date — that's 0.001 per cent. 

Of those, five have proven fatal. 

Australia does not have enough doses of Pfizer to cover the whole population, so it has been prioritised for more vulnerable members of the population and adults aged under 60.

AstraZeneca is has been prioritised for those over 60 because they are less likely to develop TTS and are at the most serious risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19. The benefit of preventing COVID-19 illness, therefore, far outweighs the incredibly small risk of blood clotting posed by the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The same now goes for people in outbreak areas.

Specific recommendations for people in Sydney:

On July 24, ATAGI recommended that all adult residents of Greater Sydney (where there is currently an outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19) should be vaccinated as soon as possible, including with AstraZeneca.

"In the context of the current risk of COVID-19 in NSW and with the ongoing constraints on Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine supplies, all adults in greater Sydney should strongly consider the benefits of earlier protection with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca rather than waiting for alternative vaccines," the group said in a statement.

What about children?

The Pfizer vaccine has now received provisional approval from the TGA for use for children aged 12 and older. However, children are not yet eligible for a jab under Australia's phased vaccine rollout.

Trials are underway involving children from 6 months to 12 years, with data due to be handed down by Pfizer later in the year. The TGA would then conduct further analysis before it would be approved for that age group in Australia.

How far apart should COVID-19 vaccine doses be administered?

ATAGI recommends 3-6 weeks between Pfizer jabs.

For AstraZeneca, the standard interval is up to 12 weeks. However, ATAGI has recommended that in an outbreak situation (such as that being experienced in Sydney) that should be shortened to 4-8 weeks.

Where are vaccines available? And how do I book?

Vaccinations are being provided at select hospitals, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, community pharmacies, and through GPs.

To book, use the national Eligibility Checker to ensure you are eligible. 

If you are, you will be taken to a Vaccine Clinic Finder where you can enter your postcode for a list of vaccination centres and a rough guide on how soon appointments are available. Click on your preferred location to make a booking.

If you are not yet eligible (ie. people under 40 who wish to wait for Pfizer), you will be able to register your interest for an appointment. 

Be prepared: Pfizer doses are limited, and bookings in some areas aren't available for several months.

In Sydney:

Walk-in clinics are being established in Sydney's west and inner west to boost access to Astra-Zeneca vaccines in the hotspot region. Shots will be provided to people over 40. A GP referral is not required. See here for opening times and locations.

Can you get a vaccine while in lockdown?

Yes. Attending a vaccination appointment — or any medical appointment — is permitted under stay-at-home orders.

How much does it cost to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Nothing. The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone in Australia. Vaccination providers cannot charge you for the vaccine or for your appointments to receive the vaccine.

Feature image: Getty