Top 3 COVID-19 vaccine questions – Reinfection, cases in vaccinated areas and best masks

Professor Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, answers the top three questions across our channels.


Hello, my name is Alison McMillan. I'm the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, and I'm here today to do the top three.

So, we got a number of questions, and I'm going to start this morning with, "How likely is it that I will get COVID more than once?" So, if you catch coronavirus, your immune system will generate a response that helps fight off the infection, and this will help you if you get exposed again. But at the moment, it's not clear how long that immune response will last. This Omicron variant, as we know, has had a number of changes to the spike protein, you know, those things that we've seen in the pictures throughout the last two years. And so, we're still learning about the immune response to Omicron. We do know, however, that the most important thing here, whether you've had COVID or not, is to get vaccinated. We know vaccine provides good protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, and so that is what will give you the greatest protection. So, you have your first and second dose and then, of course, your booster. And you should do that irrespective of whether you've had COVID or not, to keep that protection as best as it possibly can protecting you and the community from COVID-19.

The second question is, "We've seen significant numbers of case numbers "in areas where there are high numbers of people who have been vaccinated." So, there's several factors that contribute to this. We do know that cases of COVID-19 are much more common in the unvaccinated. However, as we all know, this Omicron variant, this new variant we are seeing, it is extremely easily transmitted between people. And so, we are seeing these high numbers. But what we're also seeing is that those who are vaccinated are being protected against severe disease and hospitalisation, but people are certainly having symptoms of COVID during their infection. As we see, and have seen, all of the states and territories relax their restrictions as we move into a sense of living with COVID, of course, people begin to move around, they are interacting more, and so, we will continue to see increased numbers. So, that's why it's so important that we keep doing all of the things that we've been doing so effectively over the last two years. So, remember, if you've got any symptoms at all, please do stay home, continue to wear the masks, and we'll talk about masks in a minute, the social distancing where you can and all of the hygiene and things that we know are so important. But the primary thing you need to do is get vaccinated.

The third question is about masks. So, the question is, "Are three-ply masks effective with Omicron, "and what's the best mask to wear?" Well, firstly, the best mask to wear is the mask that's available to you. But I want to emphasise a little to what I just did before, that masks are only a part of a range of things that we need to do to continue to stay safe in this pandemic. So, remember, if you're unwell, do stay home and get tested. Remember those important things around hand hygiene, where you can, social distancing, all those things we know are very important. A mask will only work if you wear it properly. So, whether it's a cloth mask, or a fabric mask, three layers, needs to be well fitted. Same with the use of a surgical mask. A surgical mask looks like this. Blue always on the outside. The mask will only work if you wear it over your nose, mouth and chin, and it's well fitted with the nosepiece across your nose. A mask doesn't work if it's hanging off your chin or hanging off your ears. Importantly, single use masks like this should be used once, and then disposed of in a bin, washing your hands or hygiene your hands afterwards. Cloth masks should be regularly washed and hung out to dry or dried carefully to prevent cross-infections. So, the best mask for you is the mask that's available to you, but it must be worn properly, as I say. Doesn't work if it's on your elbow, or hanging off your ear. So, closely fitted mask, that's what you need to wear.

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  1. How likely is it that I will get COVID-19 more than once?
  2. Why are we seeing significant COVID-19 case numbers in areas that are heavily vaccinated?
  3. Are 3 Ply Masks still effective with Omicron – what’s the best mask to wear?
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