By Dr Mitchie Natividad Bautista
I just completed my two doses of Pfizer COVID -19 vaccine at Royal Melbourne Hospital, as part of the 1A medical team. The first dose was in early March when I had a sore arm for a few hours and nothing else. The second dose three weeks later led to mild fever and lethargy, managed with Panadol and resolved after a day. Some people have no side effects at all, whilst others have more. Pfizer is said to have higher incidence of flu like symptoms after the second dose, and Astra Zeneca with the first dose, but it just means that our immune system is responding to the vaccine and doing what it’s supposed to, building antibodies, as well as long lasting immunity to fight COVID 19.
We are extremely lucky in Australia to be offered both Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines. As healthcare workers, we are given the vaccine that is available in our hospitals and we don’t get a choice. Although I received the Pfizer vaccine, I would happily have taken AstraZeneca. Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are very effective at reducing severe illness, hospitalisation, and death from COVID-19. As Melbourne’s production of the AstraZeneca vaccine increases, more people will be receiving AstraZeneca. A large number of hospitals are now using AstraZeneca to vaccinate our medical, nursing and ancillary staff.
After one dose, both vaccines reduce serious COVID infections by 75%. Two doses of Pfizer vaccine, taken three weeks apart, reduce symptomatic cases of COVID-19 by 94% and severe illness by 92%. After two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, taken 12 weeks apart, the reduction is up to 86%.
Based on UK data, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines significantly decrease viral transmission, though Astra Zeneca was the only one who looked at it directly and showed a decrease in the viral carriage. Though new variants of the COVID-19 virus have emerged, this is normal because viruses evolve over time. It is likely that both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against current variants.
It’s extremely disheartening what’s happening in Queensland. I think only vaccinated healthcare workers should look after COVID patients as not only does the vaccine decrease serious infections, but It can also decrease viral load and reduce transmission of the virus to others. And hence reduce future outbreaks. The current clusters in Queensland were started with an unvaccinated doctor and unvaccinated nurse (through no fault of theirs), working with COVID patients, leading to lockdown of Greater Brisbane.
For healthcare workers still awaiting their vaccination, contact your home hospitals or the call centre for health care workers, 1800 675 398 to book your vaccinations. Otherwise, Sunshine Hospital vaccination hub is offering walk-ins and booked appointments, with your hospital ID and Medicare card, until April 1, then again on Easter Sunday and Monday.
Like all medications, COVID vaccines have risks, such as allergic drug reactions, flu-like symptoms, sore arm, and that is to be expected. The media storm about the risks of blood clots with AstraZeneca does not seem to be any different from the risks of blood clots in the general population without the vaccine. Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon, with or without the vaccine. Getting COVID infection, without the protection of the vaccine, has a significantly higher risk of blood clots. We must avoid trial by media and political undertones with no medical evidence. Imagine those in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Brazil or South Africa who would be incredibly grateful to get this potentially life-saving vaccine, whether it’s Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
As the vaccine rollout continues, I encourage you to get vaccinated to protect yourself, our community and our freedom, and hopefully, to be able to travel overseas again, especially to our beloved Philippines. Though travel to the Philippines may be a few years away yet.
For the latest news and information regarding COVID-19 vaccination, visit the health.gov.au website.