COVID-19 vaccination – Mary G interview with Katrina Clarke

In this radio interview, Mary G speaks with Katrina Clarke, the National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator at the National Centre for Immunisation, Research and Surveillance, asking questions about the safety and approval process of COVID-19 vaccines, side effects of the vaccines, and more.


Mary: Hello everybody. It’s me, Mary G again, mind you, whaddayow. And now I’m going to be talking to the beautiful Katrina Clarke, mind you, from the National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator at the National Centre for Immunisation, Research and Surveillance. And, of course, the question is vaccines, mind you, and vaccine development, the speed of development, the ingredients and the science behind each vaccine, whether it’s Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna. What does approval process involved here in Australia? Well Katrina, hopefully, you can help me with these questions.

Katrina: I’ll try my best.

Mary: No worries, darling. Can you explain your role as National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator, and what do you do?

Katrina: Yeah, sure. So my role is to ensure effective vaccination policy development and programs by delivering our policy and practices. So this is through research and surveillance activity and relating to immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As well as working with States and Territory immunisation partners and supporting Aboriginal immunisation workers that work within these departments as well. So it’s just really, is to promote the awareness of the National Immunisation Program to really to increase vaccination uptake amongst our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Mary: What a task. Have the COVID vaccines been developed so fast? I mean, have they been developed too fast and have they been developed too quickly for safety?

Katrina: So what we know is that the COVID-19 vaccines, you know, they were rolled out in the population within six to nine months, which is, you know, unprecedented given that it usually takes around 10 to 15 years for the normal vaccine development process. But it’s really important to realise as well that none of the phases of our vaccine development was skipped.

Although, you know, the COVID-19 vaccine trials they have been set up much more quickly than would’ve been previously possible. This also doesn’t mean that the safety assessment has been compromised. So communities, we can be reassured that the COVID-19 vaccine, they have been through, you know, the same safety checks as other vaccines.

So rather than the science being sped up, it was the administration process that has really been fast tracked. So we saw a, like this huge, big global investment, you know, of all of the vaccine companies around the world really work together to really develop this vaccine.

Mary: And how does the vaccine approval system work in Australia?

Katrina: Oh yeah. So in Australia, any COVID vaccine, they must meet the high standards of the Therapeutical Goods Administration, so the TGA, as any other vaccine. So vaccine safety remains the TGAs, as well, top priority. So after any vaccines is registered, and it also, and it starts to be given to people, the vaccination, the vaccine experts and the regulators they continue to monitor the safety of the vaccine in several ways.

So, you know, as a further check as well, the TGA, they assess the quality of every batch of vaccine being supplied in Australia. Yeah, so the safety monitoring, so this safety and monitoring as well, it allows us to pick up any rare or unexpected side effects and adjust the vaccine program and recommendations, as well as, the information as occurred recently here in Australia.

Mary: And what does TGA mean?

Katrina: So the TGA is the Therapeutical Goods Administration. That’s with any vaccines that is provided to the Australian population, so they go through those stringent, you know, safety checks prior to any vaccines going on the National Immunisation Program.

Mary: And what vaccines are available here? And which one is recommended for different age groups, like pregnant women, children aged 12 plus?

Katrina: Yeah, sure. Currently Australia, we have three COVID-19 vaccines. So the first one is Pfizer vaccine. This vaccine is registered for use in people aged 12 years and over, and is currently the preferred COVID-19 vaccine for use in people under 60 years of age. And then we also have COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine, which is registered for use in people aged 18 years and over. And then we also have just recently so the Moderna vaccine, which is registered for people aged 12 years and over, and this vaccine is being rolled out from your local pharmacies.

Yeah, and so currently, Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, they have shown to be safe in pregnant women as well. And based on all the accumulated real world evidence from other countries, so pregnant women are a priority group for COVID vaccinations and should be also routinely offered the Pfizer vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.

Mary: Can COVID-19 vaccines actually give you COVID?

Katrina: Absolutely not. No. So you cannot get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine. So, you know, to really get the COVID-19, a live virus that can multiply in your body, it has to really infect you. So no vaccines supplied currently in the world, none contains a live Corona Virus.

Mary: And what sort of side effects can people expect after being vaccinated?

Katrina: So it’s normal to experience mild side effects after any vaccines, and they usually fade within one to two days after the treatment. So some of the side effects you may experience after having a vaccine is pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itchy as well at the injection site. As well as tiredness, headaches, muscle pains, [5:58] fevers or chills. You know, severe reactions to vaccines can happen but these are very, very, very rare.

Yeah, and I just suggest as well, if, you know, any of the community members, if they do have concerns about the side effects, just to really speak to their local GP, local Aboriginal medical service or their trusted medical professional as well. So like the health experts as well, we are really monitoring the safety of all vaccines given here in Australia, and the research shows that all vaccines are safe and well tolerated as well.

The centre that I work at as well, so we also have AusVaxSafety, which is a active monitoring the side effects reported after a COVID vaccine in Australia and this information as well, it’s updated weekly. Your GP or your local AMS as well, they can show you this real life data. So it’s updated weekly and, you know, we have quite a few AMSs as well as actively reporting back to AusVaxSafety.

So yeah, compared to, you know, compared to the chances of getting COVID-19 disease, the vaccine, it really, really outweighs, you know, the benefits of this, you know, disease. So, you know, I recommend everyone get out there and get their vaccines.

Mary: I got vaccinated, and then I had to wait at the doctors for 15 minutes before I could leave. Why the 15 minute wait?

Katrina: With all other vaccines we receive, the doctor or the nursing staff, they just like to keep us around for, you know, that 15 minutes just to ensure that we don’t experience any immediate adverse event following the vaccine. So, you know, and if we, you know, in that rare case if we do, they can provide that rapid medical care for you while you are still there in the medical service or in the medical centre. So that’s why, you know, even when we were, you know, we take our young bubs for their immunisations as well, like the nursing staff like to keep everybody around just to keep an eye on them to ensure, you know, if they do have an adverse reaction, you know, the medical staff are there on hand to, you know, provide that medical assistance.

Mary: Very wise, yeah, and anything unexpected, you know, so. What’s the most frustrating, untrue thing you hear about COVID-19 vaccinations?

Katrina: I don’t think I can really go in, you know, all the untrue stuff. But, you know, it is upsetting to hear certain rumours or ideas about the vaccine which stops our mob from getting immunised or vaccinated against this horrible disease. It’s really, I suppose, really to focus on the importance of us having that open and calm and honest conversation with our family members and community members as well. And we really, you know, try to avoid getting frustrated and so attacking our families.

You know, I try to help my family and friends understand the importance of the vaccination to protect themselves, you know, and their family and our community. So, yeah, just by encouraging them to really do their own research and to rely on, you know, reputable forces of information, you know, and just to help them to make that informed choice. And stay up to date with all the latest research. So just not trying to get frustrated when you hear, you know, all this untrue disinformation that are coming out from certain social media. So I try and really to refer all, everybody, you know, that have certain concerns about the vaccine to really do their own, I suppose, research as well. So just by encouraging them, yeah, to really do their own research.

You know, and it’s also important for all in the household to be vaccinated. We have good evidence that the vaccine protects others in their household, so particularly children from getting COVID-19. So yeah, vaccinating households and close family members around, you know, children will protect them and their school children as well, you know, with the school community, especially with all the schools now opening back up. So, you know, immunising the children, you know, this really stops the, you know, I suppose has the good potential to minimise school closure as well. So, you know, given most of the COVID cases now are introduced from students attending while being infected in the household.

I suppose, the main really important message here is just to get everybody out there and to get their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. You know, those two doses on board. Not just your one dose, but the second dose as well.

Mary: And what about the future? Do you expect COVID-19 vaccinations will become an annual thing, a yearly thing like the winter flu shot?

Katrina: It’s really too early to tell if we need an annual COVID-19 vaccine in the same way that we do for the influenza. And I think, you know, as soon as ATAGI, I suppose, informs the Commonwealth, and then, you know, the Commonwealth will inform the community plus the rest of the Australian population. But at the moment, it’s a watch this space.

Mary: Katrina, thank you so much for sharing. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners out there?

Katrina: Just, you know, immunisation, it’s safe and well tolerated. As well as, you know, getting out there, getting your COVID-19 vaccine, as well as making sure, bub is all up to date with their immunisations as well.

Mary: Okay. Katrina Clarke, mind you, National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator, and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. Katrina, thank so much for sharing with us.

Katrina: You’re welcome, Mary G. Thank you for having me.

Mary: No worries, darling. See ya.

Katrina: Bye bye.

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Please note, this audio recording was published on 12 November 2021. Updated health advice was provided on 09 December 2021, recommending the Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years old. For more information read the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s statement.

Note: The National Coronavirus Helpline and Easy Vaccine Access service are no longer in service.

For information about COVID-19 support services and resources including information on booking a vaccination, COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and other COVID-19 services, please visit

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