Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – Delta variant, vaccination and breastfeeding, and more vaccine types

Dr Lucas de Toca, COVID-19 Primary Care Response First Assistant Secretary, answers the Top 3 questions you’ve been asking on our social accounts.

Date published:
Health sector

Good morning, I am Doctor Lucas de Toca and I lead the Department of Health’s primary-care response to COVID-19. Welcome to Top Three. Today I’m joined by Linda, as usual, who will be doing Auslan interpreting. We’re on a very rainy day on the land Ngunnawal people. Dhawra nhuna, dhawra Ngunawal. Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra. Wanggarralijinyin mariny balan bugarabang, and also acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands where you may be watching from. My shout-out today goes to everyone in Sydney and the areas in New South Wales that are currently impacted by public health restrictions because of Covid clusters. It’s a bit scary when these things happen, and they keep happening, but people know what to do. Please wear your mask when you’re required to, please follow the advice from the New South Wales public health authorities, if you have any symptoms, isolate at home and get a test and stay at home until you get a negative test result, and thank you for doing all the things that are keeping you, your community and all of us in Australia safe from Covid.

First question. Is it likely that new variants, such as the Delta variant, will impact the rollout of the vaccines in Australia?

It is unlikely that the Delta variant and other variants will impact the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Variants of the virus, such as the so-called Delta one, or B.1.617.2, I said B.1.617.1 in a previous video and that was wrong, are diversions or different types of the virus that emerge after the circulating virus in around the world and it mutates or changes to develop new characteristics, sometimes in those so-called variants of concern, leading to greater infectivity or higher chance of the virus spreading between person to person. The immunity, or the response and protection that you get from vaccines, is a complex system that has an interplay of small proteins called antibodies but also immune cells and memory cells that are able to recognise part of the virus and respond and attack the virus in a variety of ways, not just with a single bullet or target, so to speak, which means that even when the virus changes, the array of protections that are brought up by the immunisation are still able to target the different parts of the virus that will allow your immune response to then neutralise it and make sure that you don’t suffer from the infection. There’s still a lot of emerging evidence on how these different variants are impacting on different populations that have had Covid outbreaks or vaccine programs, but what we know so far, and there’s a lot of data coming out of the UK that have a high proportion of the population vaccinated with a similar mix of vaccines of what we have in Australia and they have used AstraZeneca quite extensively for millions and millions of people, is that a complete course, a full course of two doses, of either vaccine, AstraZeneca or Pfizer, provide very significant protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, even from the so-called Delta variant. We will continue to monitor how different variants that are emerging around the world impact different vaccines and we have a wealth of evidence coming from our international colleagues that show us how that’s evolving, but the important message is that the more people are vaccinated, the more protection there is against the virus, the lower the chances of the virus replicating, the lower amount of circulating virus, then the lower the likelihood of new variants emerging. Doing what all of you and all of us are doing, maintaining physical distancing, isolating when required, getting tested if you have the mildest cold and flu symptoms and isolating until you get the result, and practising good hand hygiene, as well as, of course, getting a vaccine when you are eligible and it’s offered to you, is the best way we can prevent more variants emerging and we can ensure that the vaccines that we have are continued to be effective to the virus and all its variants as they are now.

Second question. Is it safe for a mother who is breastfeeding to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. If you are breastfeeding, you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine at any time. You do not need to stop breastfeeding before or after the vaccination. There’s been millions and millions, hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered overseas and the safety for women who are breastfeeding and their babies is well established. There’s some early evidence that antibodies from women vaccinated with some COVID-19 vaccines can pass on to the breast milk and provide some protection to the breastfeeding infant, which is really good given that at the moment infants and children in general are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. There’s a really good fact sheet in the Department of Health's website on and you can look for breastfeeding that provides you with all information. It is a relevant question, there’s a lot of questions coming around, there’s a lot of concern about the virus and vaccines, and you, of course, want to make sure what you are doing is safe for you and your baby. I would also encourage you, of course, to raise these questions with your doctor or other health professional to make sure that they can give you an answer that is relevant to your specific circumstances. But as a general response, yes, the vaccines are safe and you can continue to breastfeed before or after you get your vaccine.

And finally, are more types of COVID-19 vaccines likely to be available soon?

Yes. The Australian Government has entered a number of agreements with vaccine candidates last year, or vaccines now, so there’s potentially a range of vaccines that will be available in Australia. Regardless of what purchasing agreements the government enters into with companies, we will only rollout vaccines that are deemed to be safe and effective by Australia's regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and as you know because we weren’t in the same rush as other countries that were experiencing severe burden of death and disease from Covid, we were able to have a proper, rigourous and in-depth assessment of the vaccines before they were rolled out in Australia. We currently have the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines authorised, or provisional authorisation, and have been rolled out to the relevant age cohorts, but we also have agreements for accessing the Moderna vaccine and the Novavax vaccine. We also had an agreement with the University of Queensland's candidate but that research at that time was discontinued because of some of the findings in the trial. The Novavax and the Moderna vaccines may well become part of the range of vaccines that are rolled out as part of Australia's vaccination program but that will only happen if they pass the rigourous assessment that the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, will undertake before making a decision. We will probably hear in the next few months of any changes of the vaccine program that may include the use of other vaccines and we will make sure we have a broader range of options available for people to ensure that everyone in Australia that wants to have a vaccine or is eligible for one, gets one as soon as possible so that we can all be protected. That is all for today. Thank you for watching, thank you for submitting your questions and keeping yourself informed and keeping us abreast of what your concerns and questions are. Continue to be COVIDSafe and see you next time.

Top 3 questions

  1. Is it likely that new variants, such as the Delta variant, will impact the rollout of the vaccines in Australia?
  2. Is it safe for a mother who is breastfeeding to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
  3. Are more types of COVID-19 vaccines likely to be available soon?

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