COVID-19 Vaccines

June 2, 2021

Victoria's vaccine program

The VTHC urges workers and their families to book  to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Some facts:

  1. The Commonwealth government's role:
    • to purchase, approval (through the TGA) and distribution/allocation of vaccines
    • to prioritise workers and members of the public into 'categories' setting out the order they will receive the vaccinations
    • to vaccinate private residential aged and disability staff and residents
    • partner with jurisdictions which will deliver the majority of vaccinations
    • the vaccine will be free to everyone in Australia
  2. The Victorian government's role:
    • to set up the nine 'hubs' which have already begun to vaccinate with the Pfizer vaccine - note there are now more than nine hubs
    • facilitate the expansion and localisation of the rollout 

Am I eligible for a vaccine?

A staged rollout of the vaccine in Australia commenced on 22 February, 2021 for high risk, frontline workers including hospital staff (working in COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 wards, emergency departments and Intensive Care Units and aged care wards), staff in General Practitioner (GP) clinics and COVID-19 testing facilities, ambulance staff and paramedics, and aged care and disability staff and residents.

As part of the rollout, the Victorian Government is delivering doses of the Pfizer vaccine to hotel quarantine and health hotel workers, airport and port workers, high-risk frontline health staff and public sector residential aged care staff and residents. The AstraZeneca vaccine is now also being rolled out. 

Latest news:

  • Anyone in Victoria over 50 is eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine
  • From last week, those between the ages of 40 and 49 can book for a Pfizer vaccine. 
  • From Wednesday 2 June to Sunday 6 June, workers in private aged-care facilities and the residential disability sector, which are managed by the Commonwealth, will be given priority access at walk-in vaccination hubs around Victoria between 9am and 4pm when they present evidence of their employment. Details can be found at Vaccination Blitz To Keep Vulnerable Settings Safe

Which COVID-19 vaccines will be used in Australia?

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

The Pfizer vaccine is being targetted first to priority groups at high risk of COVID-19 from 22 February. Vaccinations using AstraZeneca are also being rolled out, with the number of these available increasing as those being produced in Australia are now starting to be distributed. As of Monday May 3, any Australian over the age of 50 can book in for the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, either through a 'hub' or through GPs participating in the program. 

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 as being spaced by longer, for example around 12 weeks, has been shown to be more effective, this is what is occurring for the AstraZeneca vaccine 

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

The Federal Government is responsible for providing the vaccine to residents and workers in private sector aged care and disability care. The Federal Government is also responsible for purchasing the vaccine, ensuring it is safe, distribution and deciding on the priority populations.  

Due to some issues with the AstraZeneca vaccine with younger people, the government announced that as of May 3, anyone over the age of 50 could receive this vaccine. 

As of June 2, 494,037 doses of a COVID vaccine had been administered in Victoria (note the numbers have jumped around - our apologies as there may have been confusion with national figures).  View the latest data on COVID-19 vaccinations

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.

Who is involved in the healthcare worker priority groups?

The first group of priority healthcare workers (Phase 1a) has been identified by the Federal Government and includes:

  • Quarantine and border workers
  • Hospital staff (both clinical and non-clinical) who work in emergency departments, intensive care units, COVID and suspected COVID wards
  • Ambulance staff and paramedics
  • Staff in GP respiratory clinics and COVID-19 testing facilities
  • Staff working in COVID-19 vaccination clinics
  • Aged care and disability care staff
  • Aged care and disability care residents.

If you're interested in finding out where you might 'fit' and when you will become eligible for the vaccine, go to the tool developed by the Commonwealth Government: Vaccine Eligibility Tester

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 the most recent at the Sandown Racecourse in Springvale, which is open from 9am - 5pm, every day of the week. There is lots of free parking available. 

Are the Vaccines safe?

Currently the advice from the Australian government is that both 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.

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. 

Some European countries have recently paused (and then restarted) using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Why, and what is Australia doing? 

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

There were reports last month of roughly 30 blood clots occurring after vaccination, a few of them fatal. This led more than a dozen European countries to suspend their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most countries resumed using it, however, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) conducted an investigation and declared that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective. The EMA said the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the potential risks — and pointed out that the rate of post-vaccine blood clots was actually lower than the expected rate in the general population.

Furthermore, even more recent news indicates that the very rare effect is probably confined to women under 55 years of age. Unlike the expected side effects listed above, the condition leads to the development of a headache at least four days after receiving the vaccine.

As more, although still very rare, cases of the blood clots have been identified, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has advised that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged under 50 years.  In adults aged under 50 years where the benefits of protection against COVID-19 are likely to outweigh the risks of the side effect, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used.

Read more, including an explanation of the potential cause of the clots, here. Also, listen to these episodes of the ABC's Coronacast: Here's what we know about the blood clot reports and Could German researchers have found a link between Astra and blood clots?

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 the vaccination is voluntary. On Friday last week, Safe Work Australia updated its vaccination advice to warn that the vast majority of employers will not have a WHS right or obligation to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while most workers will not be entitled to refuse to work because a colleague has not been inoculated.  

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.