Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – Flu vaccine, COVID vaccine second dose and long COVID

In this video, Dr Lucas De Toca answers the top 3 questions you’ve been asking on our social accounts.


Good morning, my name is Dr Lucas De Toca and I lead the Australian Government Department of Health COVID-19 Primary Care Response. That’s a long title.
Welcome to Top 3 today. I am joined by Linda who will be doing Auslan interpreting. We are filming from Ngunawal country I want to acknowledge the Ngunawal people for having us here and their elders past and present and extent that acknowledgment to the traditional owners of the lands you may be watching from.

My shout out today goes to everyone In Australia for being patient and continuing to book appointments to get their  COVId-19 vaccine.
Just over 2 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccination since the roll out started. There is about 20 million adults in Australia who will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. So that means 1 in 10 of adult Australians have received their COVID-19 vaccines. That’s a phenomenal effort, and we thank you for your support and for your patience while the roll out continues.

First Question

Does the flu vaccine give you the flu virus?

Yeah that’s a great question, and it’s actually really important that this time of year flu vaccination remains top of mind. Many of us are not eligible to receive our COVID-19 vaccine, but flu vaccinations are rolling out through the country and now, before winter comes in, and there already a bit of cold in the southern states, it's important we get a flu vaccine in order.

Everyone over six months of age can receive a flu vaccine and are encouraged to do so as part of our national immunisation program.

All flu vaccines used in Australia contain an inactivated virus that means the components used inside to start an immune response in your body are not live virus.It cannot cause the flu.

But, 15% of people who receive the flu vaccine experienced side effects that seem to look a bit like the flu. A bit of fever, you might have general tiredness or muscle aches, which is similar to some of the symptoms you get when you get the flu. But those symptoms often appear within a few hours of getting the vaccine or one or two days after and they go away by themselves. It is not you are getting influenza, your immune system is mounting a response, and fever is one of the tools your body has to fight infections, they raise the temperature, which makes it harder for bacteria and virus to reproduce. When your immune system activates you can get a bit of fever and tiredness and muscle aches, and it means your immune response is working. Most people will not experience those side effects, they may get soreness at the injection site, but it doesn't mean you are getting influenza. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.

Getting vaccinated helps protect you and people around you, which is why we have a schedule for people of all ages over six months of age.

Remember, importantly, you need to leave at least two weeks between the flu vaccine and any COVID-19 vaccine. If you are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine or you don't have a scheduled appointment in the next two weeks, it would be a good time to get your flu vaccine and when you become eligible you can have your COVID-19 one. If you are about to get your

COVID-19 vaccine within the next two weeks you will have to wait for your flu vaccine.


Second question

Will be COVID-19 vaccine still be effective if my second dose is postponed?

The two COVID-19 vaccines we have in Australia require two doses.

The first dose, primes your immune system, shows your immune system what the virus would look like, and helps mount that first response and in fact, both vaccines are quite effective at generating protection with the first dose, so you get that first boost, that first immune response with the first dose, but the second dose seals the deal. It make sure the response is more effective but also it lasts for longer, it helps kick in your memory cells, we talked about the other week, part of your immune system that keeps a record of the virus and allows you to mount up a quick response if you are exposed later on. So the first one generates that first immune response and the second one helps you maintain it.

For the Pfizer vaccine, the recommended interval is 21 days, so three weeks, between the first and the second, with a strong recommendation that if you can't make the 21 days it is still completed within six weeks of the first dose.

For AstraZeneca, it’s a little bit different, you have to wait at least four weeks between the two doses, but the recommended interval that seems to show the highest effectiveness, is if you wait 12 weeks between the first dose and second dose.

If you miss the appointment for your second dose, try to reschedule as quickly as possible so you get your second dose as close as you can to the intended time, but it’s still really important that you get it, even if it is late, because it will help your body mount a stronger and more durable immune response.

As a general recommendation, as with all vaccines, it is important that you are not having an acute infection, you don't have cold and flu like symptoms when you go for your vaccine so we are able to identify whether side-effects are caused by the vaccine and not by the infection you are already carrying. As a general reminder anyway, if you have cold and flu symptoms, you should not just be not getting your COVID-19 vaccine or your flu vaccine, you shouldn't leave your house, isolate and get a test and wait until you get a negative COVID result before leaving your house.


Finally, what is long COVID and how common is it?

Millions of people around the world have unfortunately had COVID and continue to have COVID. It is raging around the world and we see the really sad and distressing situation in India, with hundreds of thousands of new cases reported every day.

Because so many people have COVID we are getting a complete picture of what the disease looks like even though it is so new.

The vast majority of people who get COVID, recover from it but the road back to recovery varies from person to person. Recovery time can depend on how sick you are, on some of your underlying conditions and what your experience with the disease were.

For some people it seems like the symptoms from COVID, and COVID can give quite a variety of symptoms, may persist for months. And that is what is now recognised or described as long COVID. Which is, you have cleared the infection, gone through the disease, but you still have persistent symptoms are akin to the original infection. It is unclear how common it is, but it might be as much as one in every 10 people who have COVID develop long COVID for a few months after.
It seems more common if you get hospitalised, or the more severe COVID disease you have. That's another reason why it's so important to get your COVID-19 vaccine whenever it is available to you and you have the option to make an appointment, because, what we know for sure is that the vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing severe disease and it seems people who get severe disease are more likely to get long COVID.
Studies are underway to help better explain long COVID, and some of the risk factors associated with it and how to manage it in the long term, for the many people who have experienced here and overseas.

But in the meantime, the general advice remains, the best way to avoid long COVID is to avoid COVID. And that is by getting vaccinated when you have a chance and in the meantime, we continue to practice physical distancing and avoiding crowds where possible. We continue to abide by public health directions, the good hand hygiene that we have been practising, hopefully before the last year, but definitely in the last year, washing your hands with water and soap and with alcohol rub if it is at least 60% alcohol. And, as I said before, if you feel sick, even with mild symptoms, stay-at-home, get a COVID test and wait until you get your result before emerging.

We are not out of the woods yet and we see how devastating COVID continues to be internationally, so we need to preserve our enviable state of little to no community transmission while the vaccination program rolls out.

Thank you for doing so, thank you for watching.

Thank you, Linda, for your tireless interpreting.

See you next time.

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  1. Does the flu vaccine give you the flu virus?
  2. Will the COVID-19 vaccine still be effective if my second dose is postponed?
  3. What is long COVID and how common is it?
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