We began this year weathering the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19. The highly transmissible variant saw thousands of Aussies struck down with the virus, or stuck inside isolating as close contacts. To control the spread of the virus and provide Victorians with more protection against serious illness, experts reduced the period of time between when you had your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and when you became eligible for your third dose.
Despite many Aussies being eligible for the third dose, our rates for this vaccination are nowhere near as high as they were for the second dose. As of March 21, 94.9% of people in Australia over the age of 16 have had two doses, but only 66.4% of eligible people have had their third.
Speaking as one of the many Aussies who tested positive in January, I know it's been a confusing time. Unluckily, I received my positive result the week I was booked in for my third dose. Rebooking wasn't as clear-cut as I'd expected. I wasn't sure of what I should do. Did I even need the third dose since I'd had COVID? Should I wait a few months because I'd have some immunity now? Swishing my finger in a circle, I ended up pointing to a random date that felt — to me — like enough time would have passed, but also didn’t seem so far away that I was nervous about re-infection. Who knows?
Well, doctors know. And they say you should get the jab as soon as you recover. So, to ensure we're not missing any other key info, we’ve asked Dr Margie Danchin (MBBS, PhD FRACP Group Leader, Vaccine Uptake, Murdoch Children's Research Institute) and Dr Thomas Schulz (Infectious Diseases and General Physician, Senior Medical Advisor, COVID-19 Vaccination Program, Victorian Department of Health) to help us get things straight. Below are seven vaccine myths we’re debunking with their help.
1. Do I really need a third dose if I've already had COVID-19?
The short answer is, yes, you do need a jab post-Covid. Dr Danchin explains that people still require a third dose after they’ve had a positive infection because it’s not yet known how long an Omicron infection can protect you from reinfection.
“Infection with other variants such as Delta, does not reliably prevent reinfection with Omicron", says Dr Danchin. “As a result, it is still advised that all previously infected people still receive the same number of COVID-19 vaccine doses as people who have never been infected."
2. How long do I have to wait to get the third dose if I've had Covid?
“After a person has had COVID-19, they can safely get vaccinated once they have recovered and are out of isolation," explains Dr Schulz. "Some recommendations about when it is best to get vaccinated have suggested waiting between four and six weeks after recovering from COVID-19, however, getting your third dose as soon as you are eligible will help protect you against reinfection."
As long as your appointment is at least three months after your second dose of a COVID vaccine, you're golden.
The only exception is if you had prolonged symptoms or were hospitalised. In those cases, it's best to discuss a health plan with your doctor.
3. Do I even need a third dose if Omicron is a milder variant?
“Unfortunately, since the Omicron variant started circulating in December 2021, we have seen that the waning of protection after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine occurs more quickly and is reduced even more," advises Dr Danchin.
"Even though the clinical symptoms may be milder with Omicron, there are more infections because it spreads so easily, and it still causes severe disease, hospitalisation and death. Booster doses have been shown to really increase protection against infection from the Omicron variant and are a critical part of our vaccine course," she says.
Even though you may bounce back from a positive Omicron infection, it's important to get a third dose to protect yourself from reinfection, and protect others in the community.
“It is very clear that a booster dose increases protection against infection for everyone over 16 years, and particularly for severe disease and death for people at higher risk, from the elderly, to those with underlying medical conditions, residents of aged care and disability facilities, pregnant individuals and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults," Dr Danchin says.
4. Since so many people are vaccinated and restrictions are easing, do I really need another dose?
The world may be opening up more, but we're still vulnerable to reinfection. Especially as we move closer to winter, Dr Danchin notes that it's critical for all eligible adults and young people to get their third dose to protect themselves and their loved ones from infection of Omicron or any other new variants that arise.
5. Do I have to choose a different vaccine for my third dose?
Not necessarily. Dr Danchin advises that if you’re over 18, Pfizer or Moderna (mRNA vaccines) are recommended for your third dose. And either can be used regardless of what vaccine you had in your primary course. For 16 or 17-year-olds, only Pfizer should be used.
“For those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine for their first two doses, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended to be used as a booster dose, even when there are no contraindications or precautions to use it again," says Dr Danchin.
The Novavax (Nuvaxovid) vaccine can be used in people over 16 years of age where no other COVID vaccine is suitable, or if you've had an initial vaccination course overseas with a COVID-19 vaccine recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Not sure? Chat to your GP about which is best for you.
6. Isn't three months too short between my second and third dose?
It isn't. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advises that you only wait three months after your second dose of the COVID vaccine.
“The best protection against Omicron is provided by having three doses so we recommend you have the third dose as soon as you are eligible,” says Dr Schulz.
7. What are the side effects like after the third dose?
Don't fret. Dr Danchin explains that the common, and expected, mild side effects following your third dose look similar to the ones you might have experienced after the first two doses. Nothing new!
Refinery29 Australia reminds readers to seek advice from their local GP about their concerns and personal circumstances, and to stay up to date with official health advice from the government.
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