People who are feeling nervous to get the COVID-19 vaccine shouldn't be afraid to have a conversation with their doctor about their concerns, says Dr Nick Coatsworth, executive director of medical services for Canberra Health Services.
Speaking as ACM, the publisher of this masthead, launches the Vax The Nation campaign encouraging people to get the jab, Dr Coatsworth said "it's completely natural to be nervous".
Australia's low vaccination rate so far has been attributed to the slow rollout of the vaccines by the federal government, but before the latest Victorian outbreak there were reports of vaccine centres sitting idle due to hesitancy and a lack of a sense of urgency in the community.
Dr Coatsworth, who was a federal deputy chief medical officer during the height of the pandemic crisis last year, said people who were hesitant to get the vaccine would be best to talk it through with their doctor, rather than outside sources.
"We've got to be careful when we talk about vaccine hesitancy, that we don't make that word 'hesitant' a negative word. In fact when I prescribe medications to my patients, I want them to be hesitant in some way, to ask why I want them to take the risk, I want them to know the benefits.
"The most important thing for people if they are feeling hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine is that they're open to a discussion with their general practitioner or their specialists, and they are open to being convinced of the benefits."
In many areas of Australia, including Canberra and many regional and rural areas, the threat of COVID-19 seems remote, but that shouldn't mean there is no hurry to get vaccinated.
"Everybody's got to find their individual reason for not waiting," he said, whether that be protecting oneself, or loved ones, or a wish to travel again or avoid lockdowns.
"But it's almost certain that COVID-19 will enter into Australian communities within the next year, no matter how good our quarantine system is, Melbourne's shown that.
"The fact it hasn't happened in any great extent in WA, or South Australia, or Queensland, it's just like playing Russian Roulette, you know you might be lucky, but chances are that it's going to turn up in the community."
In the same way that Australians of all ages committed to staying home during lockdowns in 2020 to benefit the wider community, Dr Coatsworth said getting vaccinated should be seen the same way.
"It's much more than individual protection, it's community protection ... There's a sort of broader benefit here than just for ourselves."
Due to receive the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine any day now, Dr Coatsworth said he had experienced side effects from his first jab, including feeling very tired, shivers and shakes, and a headache.
"Probably more than I had felt before with an influenza vaccine ... but I took a Panadol and that helped a little bit. And then within 24 hours I was back to normal."
Dr Coatsworth said between 50 and 60 per cent of people experienced such side effects with either the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine or the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The difference in which dose was more likely to cause the side effects was connected to the more powerful immune response created by the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to its second dose, and vice versa with Pfizer.
Acknowledging concerns about a rare blood clotting condition associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr Coatsworth said people aged over 50 trying to wait for a different vaccine to be available to them faced a higher risk if they caught COVID-19.
"The reason [the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] had to choose 50 years as the cut off, is that's the point at which the risk of going to intensive care with COVID-19 far, far exceeds the risk of getting a blood clot."
"In terms of effectiveness, there's no difference," between AstraZeneca and Pfizer, he said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
- Bookmark this masthead's homepage
- Make sure you are signed up for our breaking and regular headlines newsletters
- Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Google News and Facebook