Open Access
Feature Article

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program

Open Access
Feature Article

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program

Gemma Reynolds, Janine M. Trevillyan

Figures

© alphaspirit.it/shutterstock
© alphaspirit.it/shutterstock
Dr Reynolds is an Infectious Diseases Advanced Trainee in the Department of Infectious Diseases, Austin Health, Melbourne. Dr Trevillyan is Head of Clinical Virology and HIV Services, Department of Infectious Diseases, Austin Health; and Lead in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program for the Austin Hub, Melbourne, Vic.

Abstract

The Australian Government intends to roll out up to three COVID-19 vaccines, with two already available (Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca). These vaccines are expected to be safe for most Australians and to offer good protection against current virus strains. GPs are integral in the Government’s vaccine roll-out strategy.
Disclaimer
This article was accurate at the time of last review (24 March 2021) and includes updates on thrombosis risk to 6 April 2021. However, as information in this area is rapidly evolving, the authors and publisher refer readers to the ATAGI and Australian Government websites for the most up-to-date information.

Key Points

  • The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax are expected to be safe for most Australians and to offer protection against COVID-19.
  • Children aged under 16 years and patients with known allergy to vaccine components should not receive the vaccines.
  • Older people and people with stable medical comorbidities are recommended to be vaccinated.
  • Pregnant women may be counselled with the assistance of decision aids, and patients with significant immunosuppression should refer to subspecialty consensus guidelines.
  • GPs are integral to the vaccination roll-out process, which began in February 2021.
  • Suspected adverse vaccine events should be reported to the TGA.

More than 100 million cases of COVID-19, the acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), have been reported globally. Even in Australia, where the pandemic has been reasonably well controlled, there have been more than 20,000 cases and more than 900 deaths. A successful vaccination strategy holds the promise of reducing the extraordinary medical, social and financial costs that COVID-19 has created worldwide. 

More than 200 COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development. In Australia, three main vaccines are likely to be used. At the time of writing, two of these have received provisional TGA approval: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (Comirnaty) and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (ChAdOx1 or AZD1222, also known as COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca).1,2 Novavax’s vaccine (NVX-CoV2373) is also likely to gain TGA approval.3 This article discusses the safety, efficacy and use of these vaccines and the Australian Government’s vaccination roll-out strategy. 

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Vaccine technology

The Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines all utilise the SARS-COV-2 ‘spike’ proteins as their core immunogenic target.4-6 Spike proteins are virus-specific surface proteins that allow SARS-COV-2 to fuse with and enter host cells.6 The vaccines aim to prime the immune system to recognise the SARS-COV-2 spike proteins and thus prevent overwhelming infection. 

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