COVID-19 Vaccines

December 15, 2021

Victoria's vaccine program

The Victorian government requires that all workers – in Melbourne and regional Victoria – on the Authorised Worker list be fully vaccinated by 26 November.

The VTHC urges workers and their families to book  to get vaccinated as soon as possible. There should now not be any problem in securing appointments as there are supplies of all three approved vaccines, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, available. Those who are eligible for the third, booster, shot need to organise to receive this as immunity wanes and the risks of infection begin to increase again. 

For those who still have questions: there is a terrific feature in the September 27 edition of the VTHC's Megaphone journal: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions with your family, friends and work colleagues. 

As at December 12, in Victoria 91.74 per cent of everyone over 12 has been double vaccinated, and 93.57 per cent have received their first shot. Australia wide, the figures are 89.21 per cent and 92.32 per cent respectively.  (see: ABC's Vaccine tracker). To check the numbers of vaccines across the country (and by region), go to this page on the ABC's website.

Latest news:

  • Those who were vaccinated early now need to organise getting the third or booster shot. The advice to government has changed, and people are eligible to receive the third shot after five months, rather than six months. This is partly due to the emergence of the new variant of concern, Omitron. Both Pfizer and Moderna have been approved as 'booster' shots. 
  • People between the ages of 12 and 59 can now book an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine. 
  • The Moderna vaccines have arrived, initially these are available only to people aged between 18 and 60. A decision on providing Moderna to those aged between 12 and 18 is expected soon. The TGA has approved it for those between 12 and 16. It is also possible that this will be used as the third vaccine. 

Vaccination to be mandatory for all authorised workers

As noted above, the Victorian government has announced that the vaccine is now mandatory for all Authorised workers. 

At this point the Federal government has said that it will not be legislating to make vaccination mandatory for other workers. This is despite pressure from a number of employers in a number of sectors. However, the FWO, after a media conference given by the Prime Minister on August 6, has amended its advice and says that employers have the right to ask their employees whether they have been vaccinated. Read more: FWO federal guidance  

Which COVID-19 vaccines are being used in Australia?

Up until recently two vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine, had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in Australia in the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

The Pfizer vaccine was being targetted first to priority groups at high risk of COVID-19 from 22 February - although due to supply issues and poor organisation, many in the priority groups were not vaccinated when they should have been.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is now being produced in Australia, is much more available and everyone who is able to receive one is being advised to do so, particularly in areas where there are outbreaks (such as in NSW and Melbourne). 

Both vaccines need to be taken in two doses. The doses need to be spaced out – for Pfizer by at least 21 days, and for AstraZeneca by at least 4 weeks, but 12 weeks has been shown to be more effective. 

The TGA has also approved provisional use of a third COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Moderna, which is already in use across much of the world. This is also a two-dose, mRNA vaccine, like Pfizer. This vaccine is also now available. 

The 'booster' or third dose, now due five months after the second shot, will be either a Pfizer or a Moderna shot. 

A single-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson has also been approved by the TGA but has not yet been purchased to be used as part of the national rollout.

More information about Australia’s rollout is available on the Federal Government’s COVID website.

Due to a rare, but serious, side effect with the AstraZeneca vaccine with younger people, the messages from the federal government have been mixed. However, as of June, anyone over 18 could, with informed consent, get the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

The following Victorian government webpages have been updated to include the Australian Government AstraZeneca patient resources:

The latest published vaccine information can be found on the Victorian Government's COVID-19 vaccine website

The Department of Health has now made the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines (the guidelines), appendices and resources available online on this DHS webpage.

The guidelines provide advice and describe the minimum requirements for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination program in Victoria, in accordance with the requirements set out by the Commonwealth Government. Compliance with the most current version of these guidelines is a condition of the Public Health Emergency Orders and Secretary Approvals that have been developed to authorise the workforces participating in Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Copies of these authorisations can also be accessed from the new webpage. Currently, the guidelines are being updated weekly. Please ensure you are using the most up to date version. Updates are highlighted in yellow in the document.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Click here for an interactive map of vaccine sites in Victoria - the map will be updated regularly as more GP clinics join the program. There are a number of locations which have been set up, including at religious sites in the suburbs. Go to this page to make an appointment. 

Are the Vaccines safe?

Currently the advice from the Australian government is that the three vaccines have been checked and approved by the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA) and are safe, effective and of high quality. The TGA ensures it checks all the latest international information and data on the vaccines. Again, we recommend you check out this VTHC article: Your Top Questions About Vaccines - Answered! It's informative, amusing and will help you in discussions with your family, friends and work colleagues. 

Vaccine side effects

Like many other vaccinations, COVID-19 vaccines can have side effects. These symptoms are generally mild and on average resolve within a day or two. If you have any concerns about the vaccine, consult your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Common reactions to vaccination include:  

  • pain where you had the injection  
  • muscle aches  
  • headache  
  • fatigue  
  • fever. 

What about the potentially serious side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine? 

Two teams of European scientists, working independently, have identified the cause of a rare blood clotting condition that has occurred in some people after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. This means any blood clots that occur could be easily treated.

In its latest report, the TGA had identified 125 cases of TTS, the rare blood-clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, from approximately 9.6 million vaccine doses administered in Australia.

COVID-19 Vaccines - Live Show

If you missed the OHS Unit's Live Show on February 23, you can still take a look at what was a very informative and even fun event (yes, fun!). The show featured two very special guests:

  1. Professor Ben Cowie: infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist, holding appointments with the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. In addition, Ben is a medical epidemiologist with Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance, Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, and is a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of Melbourne.
  2. Mr Leigh Hubbard: Director, Engagement (Industry Settings); COVID-19 Community Engagement & Testing Command,  Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Leigh was also Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council from 1995 - 2005.

One of the questions asked was whether employers would have the right to make vaccinations mandatory. both the Commonwealth nor the State governments have made it clear that in most cases the vaccination is currently voluntary. 

Go to the We Are Union - OHS Reps Facebook page, here to catch up or watch it again. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions document which accompanied the Live Show.

A reminder though: Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Liam O'Brien welcomed the start of the program, but reminded workplace stakeholders that it "will not happen overnight".  He said, "It is essential that all workers – especially those in high-risk industries – continue to be kept safe in their workplaces by the social distancing and other procedures which have saved so many lives over the last year."  Read more: ACTU media release 

New COVID-19 vaccine information for workplaces:

Victorian information

There is a page on the DHHS site with a lot of information on the vaccines and Victoria's rollout program: COVID-19 vaccines. The page has information about the different vaccines, who will get vaccinated first, and a COVID-19 'Information hub' page. There are also links to Commonwealth information. 

The government has also developed translated content about vaccine rollout. This includes information on:

  1. Health advice and restrictions;
  2. the COVID-19 vaccine;
  3. Business and work;
  4. Education;
  5. Travel and transport; 
  6. Housing; and
  7. Safety

To check whether there is information in the language you're looking for, go to this page. (here is the information in English). Information in more languages will be uploaded as it becomes available, but there are already many there including, but not limited to: 

Safe Work Australia has published new information about work health and safety and COVID-19 vaccines.

SWA reminds employers that they have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The new guidance provides information about rights and obligations under the model WHS laws and how they relate to COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine work health and safety information is available for employers, small business and workers in 37 different industries and is accessible via the dropdown menu tool on the SWA site.  

Australian Government updates

The Australian government has produced more material and information:

Advice to HSRs - Consultation 

As noted above, all businesses which are operating in metropolitan Melbourne must have a COVIDSafe or a High Risk COVIDSafe Plan in place. Remember, your employer has a duty to consult with HSRs under s35 of the Act, including when developing and implementing the COVIDSafe plan. HSRs should also be consulted by the employer on the nomination of workers to be invited to register for a vaccine.  Contact your union or the OHS Team at Trades Hall if you have any questions. WorkSafe has recently released a new video on Consultation - specifically in relation to making workplaces COVID-safe.