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Information for the stroke community about COVID-19 vaccination

August 20, 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:

Read the Australian Government's current coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert.

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.

Which vaccines are available in Australia?

Two vaccines are currently available: the Pfizer vaccine (also known as Comirnaty) and the AstraZeneca vaccine (also known as Vaxzevria).

In August the TGA also provisionally approved the Moderna vaccine, which will be available later in 2021.

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.

Australian Government information on the vaccine program.

Is the 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.

Following a thorough and independent review, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) decided that some vaccines meet the high safety, efficacy and quality standards required for use in Australia.

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. You can read more about the TGA's decision.

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.

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.

Find out whether you can book a vaccination with the Australian Government's Vaccine Eligibility Checker.

Eligibility can vary depending on the conditions where you are, so also check your state or territory website: ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.

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.

Is there a risk of blood clots?

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, called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), is very rare and mostly occurs in younger females.

There is no evidence that people who have had a past history of other types of blood clots have an increased risk of developing TTS, or of becoming more ill from it if it occurs. The Government advises that people with the following conditions can get the AstraZeneca vaccine:

  • History of blood clots in typical sites
  • Increased clotting tendency that is not immune-mediated
  • Family history of blood clots
  • History of ischaemic heart disease or stroke
  • Current or past thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
  • Those receiving anticoagulation therapy

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 conditions, although more data is needed.

Reports of the rare blood clots have happened between day 4 and 42 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 more about thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome.

What should I 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 are things 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?

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

Generally, the vaccine is safe for people on warfarin or other anticoagulants, 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.

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

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.

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

If you are unlucky enough to be infected after being vaccinated, you can still get COVID-19, but you are much less likely to be severely ill or need to go to hospital.

With only mild symptoms, 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:

Where can I get tested if I have symptoms?

There are different options depending on where you live, such as pop-up testing centres, GP offices, respiratory clinics, and drive-through testing sites.

Find a testing location near you.

What is rapid antigen testing?

Rapid antigen testing uses a nasal swab (a small cotton bud) that is placed in a chemical solution to detect signs that your immune system has been exposed to the coronavirus. It gives results in 15 to 20 minutes, and is being used in NSW to quickly find COVID-19 in people who do not have symptoms.

Read more about rapid antigen testing.

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.

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?

Vaccines are a safe way of producing an immune response in the body without causing illness. They strengthen your immune system by training it to recognise and fight against specific germs (bacteria and viruses) that can cause serious illness.

Vaccines contain either killed or weakened versions of the virus that causes the disease, or a small part of it, such as a protein or nucleic acid. When you get a vaccine, your immune system recognises these as foreign. It responds by creating memory cells and antibodies that protect you against future infection.

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.

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.

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

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

Latest on the COVID-19 health alert.

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