health

"I'm a doctor, and here are the 6 questions I get asked most about the COVID vaccine - answered."

Many Australians are feeling confused about whether or not to get the COVID vaccination.

While some are desperate to receive the vaccine, others remain unsure, and a small minority feel passionately against the vaccine altogether. 

A hairdresser recently sparked controversy when they banned clients who had received the COVID-19 vaccine from visiting their salon. Is it meant to be so complicated?  

Well, no. 

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COVID-19 is a real virus and it spreads rapidly with lethal implications. 

The data shows that the vaccination has a reduction in the length and severity of a person being sick with COVID-19. 

The vaccine is our ticket out of this pandemic and towards a travel-free, mask-free and lockdown-free life. 

It is normal to have questions and even feel doubtful about getting the vaccination. 

The vaccine is new, with developments occurring every day. Change is scary, especially when it comes to our health. Doing your own research and asking questions is always a good thing. 

However, when we are getting our answers from non-reputable sources with blurred boundaries between what is fact, misunderstanding or simply a lie, we are leading ourselves down a very dangerous path. 

As a doctor, here are some common questions and answers that I’ll be discussing with my patients: 

Is the COVID-19 vaccine too new to be classified as safe? 

From the start of the pandemic in 2019 scientists have been working incredibly hard to create a vaccine. 

Yes, it has been a steadfast process but that’s not because the process has been rushed. 

Rather, there has been unprecedented global funding, collaboration between worldwide expert researchers, scientists, manufactures and distributers and a common purpose that has enabled us to respond to this pandemic in the safest and most evidence-based way possible. 

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Moreover, we weren’t starting from scratch with the research and science. 

Data from previous coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS in 2002 and 2012 were used in the development of our response to COVID-19. 

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Does the AstraZeneca vaccine cause blood clots? 

There is a very rare but serious side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine called thrombosis, or blood clots in layman’s terms. 

When I say rare, I am referring to a side effect occurring in around 5 people in every one million after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca. 

That’s 0.0005 per cent.

To put this into perspective, for someone living in the United States (regardless of whether or not they've been vaccinated), the chance of a blood clot occurring for the first time is 100 in 100,000, which is 0.1%. 

Despite this very rare side effect associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Australia has recommended that the Pfizer vaccine be used in people under the age of 50. 

I’m fit and healthy, and have no upcoming holiday plans, so why do I need to get vaccinated?

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that does not discriminate based on age. 

In the United States as of May 2021, there have been over 2000 deaths amongst 18 to 29 year olds and over 6000 deaths in 30 to 39 year olds. 

The rate of those who have been infected and are now facing long-term consequences including fatigue, respiratory and neurological symptoms, is much higher than this. 

Just because you are young, fit and healthy and not travelling, does not preclude you from being infected with COVID-19 and facing long-term consequences. 

What if I’m breastfeeding?

There is no evidence that the vaccines available have any risk of harming a breastfeeding baby and you can receive the vaccine at any time if you are a breastfeeding mother.

What if I’m planning a pregnancy? 

A lot of women find the timing of their vaccination and their hopes to fall pregnant a stressful balancing act. 

The current recommendation is that you do not need to avoid falling pregnant either before or after getting vaccinated. 

If you do get your first dose and then happen to fall pregnant, you may choose to have the second dose either during pregnancy or after your pregnancy. 

Although you’ll only have full protection against COVID-19 after two doses of the vaccine.  

What if I’m pregnant?

Many respected expert bodies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) are recommending the vaccine for everyone regardless if they are pregnant or not. 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) recommend pregnant women take the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy. This is because the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby. 

Pregnant women are encouraged to discuss the decision in relation to timing of vaccination with their health professional.

If you are pregnant and have certain medical risk factors or are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, you should consider having a vaccine during pregnancy. 

There is currently no evidence of the COVID vaccination increasing the risk of miscarriage or deformities. 

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There is, however, documented evidence of a pregnant woman infected with COVID-19 having an increased risk of transmission to her baby at birth and premature labour. 

Compared with non-pregnant women, pregnant women with COVID-19 also have a higher risk of developing certain complications.

Us Australians are living in a COVID-19 free fantasy. 

Australia can not remain closed off to the rest of the world forever and to think we can re-integrate globally one day without a majority of Australians being vaccinated is wishful thinking. 

We must be well informed and prepared. 

So bottom line… what will I be telling my patients? Get vaccinated. 

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccination, you can ask your GP or visit the following links for more information:

Australian Government COVID-19 vaccination decision guide for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning pregnancy.

Statement from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Information on COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine.

Gabi Cher is a mother, wife, doctor and clinical researcher. She works as a Senior Resident Doctor at the Royal Hospital for Women where she is a Clinician Member on the RHW Clinical Council. She has a special interest in women's health and is passionate about education and gender equity, which is reflected in her roles as Secretary of the Medical Women’s Society of NSW as well as Conjoint Associate Lecturer at UNSW. 


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