Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – Return to work, testing for travel and impacts of the vaccine on medical treatments

Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, answers the top three questions across our channels.

Date published:
General public

Hello and welcome to today's Top 3. My name is Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Government Department of Health and joining me is Linda who is providing our auslan interpretation. My shout out today is to everybody who has either had a booster shot for a COVID-19 vaccine or is planning to have a booster shot for the COVID-19 vaccine when it is your turn. What we know is that these booster shots help to give your immune system an extra boost and they increase the protection for yourself, for your family members and for other members of the community. The booster shots are recommended six months after you have had the second shot of your initial two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. When it comes to 6 months after that second shot, please make an appointment and go and get your booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. That way you will be strengthening the protection to you, to your family and to everyone else in Australia. Thank you for your questions.

Your first question today is, as more people are returning to the workplace, to school, and to other settings, what can we do to prepare ourselves if we are feeling anxious? Firstly, it's perfectly normal to feel anxious at this time. We have all experienced anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you go through changes such as returning back to your workplace, this can lead to symptoms of anxiety. What you can do of course, to address feeling anxious is to have a degree of control about what is happening. You can do this through paying attention to your COVIDSafe behaviours. We have all got used to protecting our health and well-being during the pandemic and continue doing this as you come back into the workplace. Make sure you are adhering to your hand hygiene, and if you are required to wear masks either while you are commuting or in the workplace please do so. Maintain that physical distancing with other people, particularly strangers who you may not know in the street outside of your workplace. Your employer will also be doing all they can to make the workplace COVIDSafe. This may include increased cleaning of the workplace. It may include making sure that there is appropriate physical distancing between employees and any visitors. It may include the requirements for the use of masks in the workplace. It may be that there is more physical distancing between individual people's workstations, and there may be limitations on the number of people who can be in a room at any one time. There may be increased focus on improving air quality and ventilation in the workplace as well. Some employees will be staging the return to work so that you don't have everybody coming in at the same time. There also may be staging of work hours of different people so you don't get crowding in places where you enter into the workplace, for example, around elevators and other areas where people may be coming closer together. Certainly, for people who have been in the position of working from home for many months, you may be feeling some concern about losing some of the benefits from working at home. Certainly, many people in Australia have enjoyed not commuting to and from work, having a little bit more spare time during the day when they would otherwise have been sitting on public transport or in traffic jams. But you can balance that by looking at the benefits of coming back in contact with your colleagues and with your friends. That opportunity to catch up with people who you haven't seen face-to-face for some time. The opportunity to grab a coffee with a friend. The opportunity to frequent a favourite cafe or a place to have lunch. The opportunity to have meetings or gatherings with other people where you are in a space together rather than coming together via video conferencing, through zoom and other systems. So, enjoy those changes which have come back in and if you are feeling anxious, though, and that anxiety is not going away, please reach out, talk to your GP or your other trusted health care provider about why you are feeling anxious. Of course, there are also resources available through Beyond Blue and other mental health resources where there are people you can talk to about how you are feeling.

The second question is whether self-tests for COVID-19 can be used when travelling. From the beginning of this month, November, we have been able to purchase self-tests for COVID-19 which you can do at home. These are available through pharmacies and supermarkets and some people have been purchasing self-tests. Self-tests are not allowed when you are travelling internationally. If you are travelling on an international flight, if you are lucky enough to be travelling overseas, you need to follow the requirements of the Australian Government and of the individual airline that you are travelling with. For travelling on flights into and out of Australia, people require a negative PCR test. That is a test carried out with a report from a laboratory. You need to have that test result within 72 hours of boarding your flight. If you don't have that test, you don't result, it is likely you won't be able to board your flight. For people who are travelling domestically around Australia, you need to follow the requirements of the states and territories that you will be travelling to. There may be some confusion because at the moment there are different requirements for different states and territories depending on how recently they have opened up, depending whether there are cases of COVID-19 in the community in that state or territory. So, please go to the website for the state or territory that you are travelling to and read through the requirements for people who are travelling and make sure that you are well prepared. If you do require a test, whether it is a PCR test or a rapid antigen test, make sure you have done your test before you are either boarding a flight or are travelling across the border into another state or territory. It may be, as I say, a little bit of confusion over the coming weeks or months. Of course, we do expect there will be significant numbers of people travelling around Australia during December in the lead up to the holiday period. Make sure you are well prepared and make sure you are up to date with what the requirements are.

Your third question is whether the COVID-19 vaccines can interfere with other medical treatments that you may be receiving. It's a very important question. Most medicines and other treatments, there is no problem having the COVID-19 vaccine. But if you are in any doubt, please reach out to your GP or other trusted health care professional and get their advice about what you should be doing. There are three situations that I want to highlight for you, though, where there may be a problem with a COVID-19 vaccine. The first is for people who are taking blood thinning medication, what we call anticoagulants. Especially for people who have just started on blood thinner treatment or for people who may currently be unstable with their blood thinning treatment. If this applies to you, please talk to your GP or your other trusted health care professional about the timing of your COVID-19 vaccine. Just to make sure it's going to be safe and you’re not going to bleed excessively from having the injection. For most people who are stable on blood thinning medication, there shouldn't be any problem at all, but please if you have any questions please reach out to your GP. The second group of people is people who are taking immunosuppressant medication. This includes people who may be undertaking a course of chemotherapy. It's really important when you have the COVID-19 vaccine that we have the opportunity for your immune system to be able to generate the antibodies, the protection, in case you come in contact with the  COVID-19 virus. So please, again, if you are taking immunosuppressant treatment or if you are on chemotherapy, talk to your treating doctor about the timing of your COVID-19 vaccines. It is still very important that people who are taking immunosuppressants get protection from the COVID-19 vaccines, but it is important to talk to your doctor about the timing of the vaccination. The third group of people is people who have been infected with COVID-19 and have received treatment with a monoclonal antibody. We have a medication available in Australia at the moment. It is called sotrovimab, and this is given as an intravenous infusion to some people who are infected with COVID-19, to try and prevent them from becoming seriously unwell and requiring hospitalisation. If you have received a treatment like this, you need to wait 90 days after the treatment before you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The reason for this is that the antibodies in the treatment can actually interfere with the vaccine and prevent you from developing a strong immune response to give you long lasting protection if you are infected with COVID-19 again. So again, if you have had one of these monoclonal antibody treatments, please talk to your GP or your doctor and they will give you advice about when it is appropriate to have your COVID-19 vaccine. Apart from those three examples, most people should be fine getting their COVID-19 vaccine. Very little problems with any other medications. As I say, if you have any doubt about this or any other questions about your vaccination, please talk to your trusted GP and get their advice as well.

That is our Top 3 for today. Thank you for listening and thank you for your questions. They are very helpful. They help us to prepare all the communication material that comes out from the Department of Health, so thank you for playing your part in helping us to get the information you need out to you in a timely manner. Have a great day, thank you, everybody, and thank you Linda.

Top 3 questions

  1. As more people return to the office, what can we do to prepare ourselves if we're feeling anxious?
  2. Are self-tests able to be used as evidence when travelling?
  3. Can the COVID-19 vaccine impact other medical treatments I am receiving?

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