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Information for the stroke community about COVID-19 vaccination

March 11, 2021

The information below is general in nature guided by the Stroke Foundation Clinical Council. If you are considering getting vaccinated or have concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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It is important even with the vaccine to continue to be COVIDSafe. Everyone still needs to:


Why should I get vaccinated?

Having the vaccine means you are much less likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19.

It is your choice to have the vaccine. Everyone will have access to the vaccine, and it is free.

Survivors of stroke are more vulnerable to the serious consequences of COVID-19 infection, meaning vaccinating against it is very important. Talk to your doctor about the vaccine.

Having the vaccine also benefits those around you. Vaccination not only reduces the chance of catching the virus, it also reduces the chance of passing it on.

More people vaccinated reduces the potential for the virus to change and get around the defence of vaccination.

Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine safe for people who have had a stroke?

If you have concerns about the vaccine or other medications, please talk to your doctor.

Vaccines are safe for people who have had a stroke.

They were approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) because independent, robust evidence showed they were safe and worked. The TGA looks at evidence of safety and effectiveness for a range of different ages, health conditions and lifestyle factors before approving vaccines for use. This includes survivors of stroke and older people.

In fact, older people and people with an underlying medical condition or disability, including stroke, are among those who will receive the vaccine first because of the risk of death following COVID-19 infection.

There have been a small number of reports of unusual types of blood clots in people who have had the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. This condition is very rare and mostly occurs in younger females. Stroke is not an identified risk factor for this condition, which appears to be caused by an unusual immune response.

As a result, the Government has recommended avoiding the AstraZeneca vaccine for people less than 50 years old, although they can still have the Pfizer vaccine where available.

Therefore, prompt COVID-19 vaccination is still advised for the vast majority of Australian survivors of stroke. Those with a history of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), antiphospholipid syndrome, or the immune condition heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), are advised to defer vaccination. At this stage it seems likely that the Pfizer vaccine will be safe for people with these condition, although more data is needed.

Please talk to your GP or neurologist if you have any other concerns about blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination.

The TGA is actively monitoring COVID-19 vaccine development both in Australia and around the world, and is also part of a network of international regulators that meet regularly to discuss the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Are there things I need to tell my health professional before having the vaccine?

Tell your doctor, pharmacist or nurse beforehand if any of the below apply you. Your health and wellbeing is their priority. It may mean there may are thing the health professional needs to check or discuss with you before vaccinating, or it may mean you cannot have the vaccine:

  • Your immune system does not work properly (immunodeficiency) or you are taking medicines that weaken the immune system (such as high-dose corticosteroids, immunosuppressants or cancer medicines).
  • You have ever had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) after any other vaccine injection.
  • You currently have a severe infection with a high temperature (over 38°C).
  • You have a problem with bleeding or bruising, or if you are taking a blood thinning medicine (anticoagulant).

Those with a history of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), or the immune condition heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), are advised to defer vaccination.

What if I am on blood thinners like warfarin or other anticoagulants?

Talk to your doctor or health professional before having the vaccine.

Generally, the vaccine is safe for people on blood thinners, however there is some risk of mild bleeding as with any injection.

Like most vaccines, the coronavirus vaccine is injected into the muscle of your upper arm. Injections into your muscle may bleed a little more than injections that are given under the skin, but less than those that are given into a vein.

If you are taking a blood thinner the bleeding may take a little longer to stop and you may get more bruising on your upper arm.

What if I am taking blood thinners like clopidogrel or other antiplatelet drugs?

Yes, the vaccine is safe for people taking clopidogrel and other antiplatelet medications. You may experience a little more bruising around the injection site.

Which vaccines are available in Australia?

Australian Government Department of Health information on the vaccine program.

Are there any side effects to the vaccines?

Please talk to your GP or neurologist if you have any concerns about side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination. 

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although many people don’t get any side effects at all.

The vast majority of side effects from a vaccination are mild and short-term. The most common are pain at the injection site, feeling generally unwell, tiredness, headache, muscle pain and joint pain. You can take paracetamol to treat any of these side effects.

Often the side effects are just a sign that the vaccine is doing its job: it can happen with many vaccines that some people might feel slightly unwell because their immune system is responding to the vaccination, but this is not a COVID-19 illness.

The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19.

One of the side effects to all vaccines can be an allergic reaction, the majority of which are mild but can be more severe. All vaccinations are given in centres staffed by doctors and nurses and you will be asked to wait for 15 minutes after you have had the vaccination to monitor you for any reaction.

There have been a small number of reports of unusual types of blood clots in people who have had the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (see above). These conditions are rare, so COVID-19 vaccination is still advised for most Australian survivors of stroke.

Reports of the rare blood clots have happened between day 4 and 20 after vaccination. The main symptoms are severe, persistent headaches that are different to your "usual" pattern and do not settle with paracetamol or other painkillers. Other symptoms may include multiple small bruises, reddish or purplish spots or blood blisters under the skin, swelling of a leg, breathlessness, or pains in the chest or abdomen.

If these symptoms occur, seek medical advice as soon as possible. Anyone attending their GP or a hospital with any concerns should let their treating clinician know the details of the vaccine they received.

Please talk to your GP or neurologist if you have any other concerns about blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination.

Read the Australian Government advice on blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination

Will I be able to pass on the virus to others if I’ve had the vaccine?

We don’t yet know for sure. Most people are protected from infection by the vaccine, and the virus can't be passed on without infection.

If you are unlucky enough to be infected after being vaccinated, it is likely that you have a lower risk of passing it on, but it is not eliminated completely.

So, even if you’ve been vaccinated, it’s really important to continue to be COVID-19 safe. This means continuing to:

Wear a mask when needed.

I’ve already had COVID-19, do I still need to get vaccinated?

Yes, it’s really important to get the vaccine, even if you’ve already had COVID-19. You may have some level of immunity if you’ve had the disease, but this varies and may not last long.

Can the vaccine give me COVID-19?

The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19.

You may feel unwell after the vaccination, often the side effects of a vaccine are a sign the vaccine is doing its job, but this is not a COVID-19 illness.

When will I get the vaccine?

Survivors of stroke are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and as such will be among those vaccinated early. To find out whether you can book a vaccination yet, see the Australian Government's Vaccine Eligibility Checker.

More information is on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Do I have to pay for the vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine is free.

Which vaccine will I get?

The vaccine you get will depend on your age, your priority group and which vaccines are available in your area.

All vaccines made available through the Australian Government’s immunisation program are safe and effective.

How does the vaccine work?

Can I have two different vaccines?

Your first and second dose should be of the same type of vaccine.

If you do not receive a second dose or your second dose is from a different vaccine you may not be protected from the virus.

Under exceptional circumstances you may receive different vaccines, this must be discussed with your doctor or health professional.

Do I still need to have a flu vaccine?

Flu is caused by a different virus to the virus which causes COVID-19. It is important to have both vaccines if you are offered them.

The flu vaccine will be rolled out from April.

Importantly, There must be a 14 day gap between having a COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about the timing of the vaccinations.

How quickly does the vaccine work?

Protection from the virus starts after 12-14 days. This is because your immune system needs to generate a response, and people’s immune systems can vary.

How long does the vaccine last?

We don't yet know exactly how long protection will last, because the vaccines haven’t been around for long enough.

The second dose is more important for longer-lasting protection, so it's really important to get your second dose.

The length of protection may vary between different vaccines. It is likely to be at least several months, but it may be that repeat vaccinations are needed. Researchers are studying this closely.

Disclaimer

This information provided by the Stroke Foundation Clinical Council is general in nature. For individualised advice please talk to your doctor or health professional.

For the latest information about the Australian Government’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine program

National coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine helpline 1800 020 080.

For the latest on the COVID19 health alert.

For information and advice on stroke prevention, treatment and recovery contact StrokeLine 1800 787 653.