Many of you have been in touch with questions about travelling to ANU, starting your semester online, support, vaccines and more.
We have posted answers to questions below and will continue to do so as new ones come through. If you have a question that hasn't been answered yet, you can email our COVID Response Office.
Stay-at-home orders in residential halls
The newly established 'stay-at-home' order is different to both quarantine and self-isolation and has implications for residential students living on campus.
Information sources and messaging
How are vaccines actually seen by people? My dad, a GP, always complains about media depictions of vaccines, bizarrely large needles, etcetera. Is this part of the issue? Also, how do vaccines feel? There was a unique sensation when getting the flu vaccine in previous years, something so cold entering your body, is this also something that impacts how people think about vaccines?
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was good anthropological information from one of my research teams that indicated that the depiction of the virus as a giant red orb impacted how some communities came to imagine and fear the virus. Some imagined it trundling down the street, the size of a basketball (as it was depicted behind news presenters!). The needle part is interesting. One would think that something threatening to breach the bounds of the body would cause people to shore up those boundaries - but needles puncture what for some can be the safety and integrity of the body. This is, crucially, not ignorant or irrational - both responses indicate world views that tell us that health as a concept cannot be taken for granted! - Professor Tracy Smart
Where can I find simple information on vaccinations for friends and family who fear the known and unknown side-effects of the vaccines?
The Department of Health website is a good place to start: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines. ACT Health also has some good info, including FAQs - https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/stay-safe-and-healthy/vaccine. For highly technical information on the various side effects and safety, you can try the ATAGI clinical guidance: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/covid-19-vaccination-atagi-clinical-guidance-on-covid-19-vaccine-in-australia-in-2021. - Professor Tracy Smart
Are we going to hear from any other panel members or about other dimensions of this issue? Feels like the same conversations we've had about the technical dimensions of the vaccines over and over. How can we increase uptake? And, is this reliance on technical language (an expert discourse) part of the problem?
Answered live - watch the recording.
Follow-up comment: Thanks for your questions - these deal with the presumptions that lie beneath information dissemination. They are important and consequential, most often for the most vulnerable. - Professor Tracy Smart
Vaccine hesitancy - has the Government done any analysis on the hesitancy. Are people philosophically opposed to vaccinations or are they opposed to the AstraZeneca?
I can't speak for the Government but my reading is that vaccine hesitancy was already a thing before the concerns with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but there is no doubt that this has caused more concern. I think partly it's what I call "vaccine complacency" - i.e. we don't have much COVID in Australia - why should be bother? I think the Melbourne outbreak is starting to overcome this somewhat. - Professor Tracy Smart
On the Channel 9 video, it was obvious this only spoke to white Australians. Are we going to see messaging tailored to specific parts of our community?
I agree with you on this one. Good on Channel 9 for taking a community stand but we need multicultural, inclusive and targeted messaging. This is why I love the NZ campaign 'Ka kite, COVID". If you haven't seen it, check it out: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-03/new-zealand-releases-ka-kite-covid-ad/13327428 - Professor Tracy Smart
Given that we are observing how quickly the virus is evolving and adapting, is it a possibility that the virus will not be completely eradicated? Could it be possible that we would need to get annual booster shots for the COVID-19 vaccine like we do with the flu vaccine?
Answered live - watch the recording.
Follow-up comment: There are many possible futures. One possible future would see annual vaccines. I think it is already clear that we will need vaccines for more than just a year, but exactly how long it is required, or in what circumstances, is less clear. Perhaps it will be required for travel to some countries after a few years. Hard to say at this point. - Professor Tracy Smart
What metrics of a successful vaccination campaign should the public be made aware of?
I think the public should be given more information on what the Government's strategy is. What population level are we looking to achieve? When do we hope to achieve that level? How does this tie into border re-opening? I think the public would like to know what the plan is, even if for some unexpected reason the plan has to change - for instance, if we have vaccine supply problems again. Better to have transparency than just a vague sense of "everyone needs to get vaccinated". - Professor Tracy Smart
Can an individual buy a vaccine from private hospitals/clinics?
Not in Australia. All vaccination is provided by the Government - there is no private vaccination program. If you feel you have a strong personal need to be vaccinated before your age group comes up, I suggest you discuss these reasons with your GP. - Professor Tracy Smart
Why is it so hard to book online? The Federal Government website said: "Please use online appointments where available ...", but then showed me four private sites which did not take online bookings, plus the ACT Government clinic, where the online booking system did not work. I am not exactly new to such online systems, having given lectures at ANU on how to design a website for a pandemic, but found the federal and ACT systems difficult to use: https://blog.tomw.net.au/2021/05/improving-australian-federal-act-covid.html
I think part of the problem is that it's a dual system - the Federal Government controls vaccine distribution but, outside of aged care, each state or territory is actually in charge of delivering the vaccine, and has its own option for booking an appointment. Of course, there are also GP options - a complicated system. My personal experience with the ACT Health website was excellent. However, it didn't work for my partner. She was put on call waiting, but given an option for a call back. She selected this and was called back and booked within the hour. The ACT Health page is: https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/stay-safe-and-healthy/vaccine/book-a-vaccination-appointment - Professor Tracy Smart
Are three appointments really needed for one vaccination at a GP? I have been attempting to help a friend get vaccinated in Sydney. Their own GP is not offering vacations and the others they have tried in the area said that three appointments will be needed: One with their current GP to obtain a medical history, one with the vaccinating GP to receive the history and then one for the actual vaccination. Is this really necessary? Are these doctors acting out of an abundance of caution, or in their own business interests? Is this what was planned? Is it legal and ethical?
This is mostly likely to be a local policy as I have not heard this before. The idea behind using GPs is that, on the whole, they have developed an individual clinical relationship with those being vaccinated and understand their history, especially for those who are in Phase 2b who have an underlying health condition. Perhaps this method was put in place to determine if your friend is eligible or not. It's hard to know. If GPs don't work out for your friend, I suggest they try the NSW Government website. A booking through this will only require one appointment provided your friend is eligible for the vaccine. Their website is at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/vaccine/Pages/community.aspx - Professor Tracy Smart
What are the plans for booster vaccinations?
No information has been provided on boosters by the Federal Government at this time, however it is most likely that we will all need them. When and how often is still not 100 per cent sure at this stage. It depends on how long immunity will last and also emergence of new variants that might be somewhat resistant to current vaccines. I found this FAQ on the Department of Heatth website: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/is-it-true/is-it-true-will-we-need-to-get-a-covid-19-booster-shot-each-year but it basically says "we don't know yet". - Professor Tracy Smart
When the vaccine is released in the ACT for people under 50, would pregnant/breastfeeding women be encouraged to get the vaccine.
Is the Pfizer vaccine safe for Pregnant women/ breast feeding mothers?
The current Australian Government advice is that the vaccine is recommended for women who are planning to become pregnant or who are breastfeeding (both for the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines). Vaccination is not routinely recommended for women who are pregnant, but may be given in consultation with a health professional. A guidance document is available on the Department of Health website. There is only limited data available on COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, but at this stage no concerns have been raised. - Professor David Tscharke
The hard border policy seems to hinge on the hope of herd immunity. If that is very difficult to achieve, would Australia be closed off indefinitely then?
The borders will open but when and how we don't know yet. I do think there has to be a connection between levels of vaccination in the country, especially of at risk groups, and relaxing of border restrictions but I am not privy to when the tipping point is. There is no doubt we are going to have to let COVID in and learn to live with it at some stage. This is why it's so important that as many people get vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce risk to them as individuals and to the broader community. More vaccination means less disease and less spread. - Professor Tracy Smart
If the Valneva vaccine gets approved, is there any idea of when that would be available is Australia (supposedly Australia is in talks to import it)?
There are rumours of talks but it's a long way from any certainty as it is still under development and trials have not even been completed at this stage. This means we are very unlikely to see it before 2022, I would think. It may be that it is looked as an option as a booster. - Professor Tracy Smart
Is a mRNA vaccination/booster likely to be able to be given later after having two shots of AstraZeneca? I am not vaccine hesitant.
The Government has not announced any plans for vaccination beyond the initial roll out, so what will happen here in Australia in 2022 and beyond is not known. It is reasonable to expect that the requirement for such a booster will be being monitored and if there is a need for boosting, or perhaps for a new vaccine that targets variants, this will be available here. There is no reason why an mRNA booster cannot be given after a full two-dose course of the AstraZeneca and studies overseas have shown that even mixing and matching the different COVID vaccines as first and second dose works well. So what you propose makes sense and beyond mRNA, there are a range of other vaccines in the pipeline, some being funded here by the Australian Government. So you can be confident that having the AstraZeneca now will not stop you getting any other type of vaccine as a booster if it is needed in the future. Also for now, studies of vaccinated people in the UK (that is, real-world studies and not clinical trials) suggest that the AstraZeneca and mRNA vaccines are offering similar protection.
COVID-19 is a global issue. What is Australia doing to be a good citizen to help the public health response in its neighbours and other developing countries?
The Australian government has committed to provide vaccines to the Pacific Island nations and also to assist in Southeast Asia - see this media release - https://ministers.dfat.gov.au/minister/alex-hawke-mp/media-release/australian-support-covid-19-vaccine-access-pacific-and-southeast-asia
How it works and its effects
Could a person who has been vaccinated be infectious (spread the virus by way of the inoculate)?
No, the vaccine is not "live" - it is only producing one small part of the virus. Just enough for your immune system to recognise and make a response that is protective. No matter which vaccine, it cannot spread.
If someone has been infected with COVID-19 previously, would that person still need to get vaccinated (although they have antibodies)?
The studies show that the immune response that can be generated by the vaccines is generally a little higher/better than the immunity that you get from having had COVID. Being vaccinated after having COVID leads to immunity being boosted and no extra risk.
Are there any additional concerns for immunosuppressed people, when contemplating vaccine options, or additional precautions?
Generally speaking, there appears to be no difference between the different types of vaccine for immunosuppressed patients. And of course its important that immunosuppressed patients are protected. But for individual people, my suggestion is to discuss these issues with their GP. Everyone is different and important that they sit down and discuss this in detail to truly understand risks.
Is it correct that young people are more likely to get side effects and, if so, why is this?
There is some anecdotal evidence that the general soreness and tiredness/aches etcetera are more frequent in younger people. The most likely explanation is that all vaccines activate the immune system and it is this activation that causes these effects. As we age, our immune system becomes a little less vigorous and so these types of symptoms might be reduced.
We know there are a small amount of short term side effects like feeling unwell for a day or so or bloods clots in a small number of cases. But how can we be sure the vaccination will not cause future health issues.
We do not expect future health issues because after many years of experience with many different types of vaccine technologies, no long term adverse events have ever been identified. Our understanding of the biology of these vaccines also gives us confidence and in particular the fact that the vaccine only lasts in your body for a short while, perhaps one or two weeks. Once it is gone, there is no lasting change in your body apart from the immunity produced and that will be the same as occurs after you have had any other vaccine, or indeed after your body has fought off an infection. We can be surer that COVID remains a threat in Australia and if you are infected, there is a real risk of becoming severely ill yourself or passing it on to someone you care about who becomes severely ill. - Professor David Tscharke
AstraZeneca and Pfizer
What is the evidence for the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the South African B.1.351 variant? Especially against any infection
Answered live - watch the recording.
Why is there a reluctance to say Pfizer is far better than AstraZeneca?
Answered live - watch the recording.
What's the evidence of age-related risk of covid, independently of co-morbidity, overweight, lack of fitness etc? 50 seems arbitrary as a decision criterion for avoiding AstraZeneca, and perhaps there should be a more nuanced approach?
Answered live - watch the recording.
Rather than getting an individual recount some more information on the side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine is needed. I have heard of cardiac arrest (within the hour) as well as the publised clotting. Some detail across age ranges would give information on which to make a decision. There seems to be a push without increasing information
The only severe adverse event that has been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine is the unusual blood clotting. There is no information that is not being shared with the public and each blood clotting event is being investigated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and has been reported in the media. It is important to know that any medical event that occurs after a vaccine is administered is recorded and investigated, which leads to long lists of events and will include things such as cardiac arrests and even deaths. These events are investigated and (other than the clotting) nothing severe has been found to be associated with the vaccine - in other words, they are chance events and the timing close to vaccination is a coincidence. However, all adverse events remain recorded, even if not found to be associated with the vaccine, for complete transparency. In recent weeks, certain parts of this full record of reports have been circulated on social media as if they are dangers known to be related or caused by the vaccines that are being hidden from the public, but these posts are a form of misinformation. - Professor David Tscharke
AstraZeneca vaccination generates an immune response against chimpanzee adenovirus, which will be boosted with a second AstraZeneca dose. Therefore a better strategy would be to have Pfizer as the second dose. Importantly, this would give a stronger immune response especially against variants. Can this alternate vaccination strategy been implemented?
This is a possible strategy and evidence is emerging that it is very effective. Actually, emerging evidence suggests that two AstraZeneca doses and a Pfizer is even better than two Pfizer doses. I think it highly likely that those of us who are getting the AstraZeneca vaccine will get a booster either later this year or more likely early next, perhaps with an mRNA vaccine that has been adapted to cover emerging variants.
I am over 50 and am worried about getting the AstraZeneca jab. What follow up is there after you receive the vaccination, what happens if something goes wrong, what follow up is there to ensure I don't get blood clots?
Answered live - watch the recording.
I have a family member who is just past 50, lives in Australia and has had blood clots and pulmonary embolisms in the past. Would it be better for them to wait for the Pfizer/Moderna jab which are not reporting any brain clots even though these clots are different to the ones they have experienced?
Only three types of clotting disorders are contraindications - Heparin-related clotting disorders, clots in the veins in the brain and clots in veins in the stomach. People who have things like DVT or pulmonary embolism are not at increased risk as far as we know. Nevertheless, I would advise your family member to discuss their concerns and individual risks with their GP.
Does a pre-existing medical history of blood clots and clotting diseases, increase the risk of the clotting side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Answered live - watch the recording.
If the comparison of efficacies between different vaccinations is impossible, how would we know Pfizer is more suitable for a certain age group and the AZ is for another?
Answered live - watch the recording.
For me it's simple, there are possible side effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine which are not evident with the Pfizer vaccine. Plus, Australia is in a good position at the moment, there is no perceived threat and as a result no urgent need to get vaccinated right now. Based on this, I do think there is a genuine reluctance for people over 50 to step forward and get vaccinated at the moment, noting that the only option is the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Any comments on this?
Firstly all vaccines, not just COVID related ones, can have side effects in some people. Over 2 billion COVID vaccines have been given globally so far and there have actually been a very low level of side effects overall. Even the clotting events from AstraZeneca and rare in those who will get it (over 50s like me!) and readily treatable. Secondly, the Melbourne outbreak(s) have shown us that the disease is still around. Not only is this a risk to the health of individuals, it's a community risk - a risk to the unvaccinated vulnerable but also a risk to economic development and livelihoods etc from lockdowns. We need to all get vaccinated to reduce these risk - not just to ourselves but to the community and our nation. For me it's also simple = more vaccinated people means less disease, less spread and reduced risk to the whole community. That's why I had my first AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as I could. - Professor Tracy Smart
I am over 70, have been a chronic asthmatic since the age of 3 but after my sister had blood clots in hospital I found that I have the same gene as she does, does that give me an increased chance of getting blood clots.
I am therefore very reluctant to getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.
You are right to be concerned. I would advise you to speak to your GP about your risk. If s/he feels that the risk is too high then they should be able to arrange a Pfizer vaccine.
I read a government flyer (not Australian) that the risk of developing blood clots from contracting COVID-19 is very high and certainly much higher than getting it from AstraZeneca vaccine. Is that accurate?
Absolutely - much higher if you get COVID, as is the risk of other symptoms... and death!
I was happy to get the first AstraZeneca vaccine (age 76), and looked forward to the second (scheduled for mid-July). However I experienced a 'small stroke' soon after the first shot. The neurologist has recommended that I *not* have the second, but that I should have Pfizer instead. Will I be able to do that in Canberra? What steps do I need to take? Thanks.
Very sorry to hear about that. My suggestion would be to talk to your GP about this but yes - if there is a medical reason not to take AstraZeneca then you should be able to get Pfizer. From what I have read having one AstraZeneca and one Pfizer will give you an excellent level of immunity. - Professor Tracy Smart
Vaccinations at ANU
Given the difference in efficacy between the vaccines does ANU have any plans to provide Pfizer to staff over 50 years age?
ANU does not have a separate vaccination program. All vaccination is being delivered through government programs. If someone feels they do not want to have the AstraZeneca vaccine, they should discuss the reasons why with their GP.
Is the university going to organise COVID vaccines for those of us who do not yet qualify for the phases? I am very worried about teaching face to face and not being vaccinated and it seems as though I've got quite a while to go before I qualify for the government roll out.
We do not have a separate vaccination program at ANU. All vaccination is being delivered through government programs. So unfortunately you will have to wait at this time. Later on in the year as vaccination opens up to more people, we are hoping to open up an ACT clinic on campus to make it more accessible. But unfortunately we cannot help anyone jump the eligibility queue - sorry.
Don't we already have a vaccination clinic on campus? A friend has already booked at it.
The Co-op health centre is one of the GP practices that is participating in the vaccine roll out. So yes - you can book in there if eligible (see: https://www.nhc.coop/services/flu-shots-and-vaccines/#covid19). We are looking at increasing access and throughput later in the year by bringing in an ACT Government "pop up" clinic to campus. - Professor Tracy Smart.
University COVID-safe guidelines
What do we mean when we say we're taking a 'principles-based approach'?
Last year when we didn't know as much about COVID-19 and the risk of catching the disease was much higher, it was important to impose very strict restrictions or rules to ensure everyone behaved in a COVID-safe way. This included a lot of rules around cleaning surfaces and maintaining a strict 1.5m distance from others.
We now know a lot more about the disease and also the risk it poses, which allows us to have a more flexible approach. This includes ensuring everyone knows the basic principles behind staying COVID-safe and trusting them to behave in accordance with those principles.
In addition, it means we can escalate risk mitigators or 'restrictions' if and when the risk increases.
Do we need to tell ANU when we've been tested for COVID?
In line with our COVID-19 Notification Requirements, there is no requirement to notify the COVID Response Office if you are undergoing a COVID test unless you are:
- A confirmed or suspected case;
- Have been identified as a close or secondary contact of a case of COVID-19; or
- Have been told to get tested and quarantine by your local health jurisdiction.
What can we use in our work kitchen?
Under the current level of the COVID-safe campus alert system, blue - low risk, there are no restrictions on sharing kitchen facilities and appliances. This means the Nespresso machines and sandwich presses can come back out for use!
As always, make sure that everyone washes up properly and practices COVID-safe behaviour.
- popping up some posters in the kitchen to encourage good hand and respiratory hygiene, and
- bringing your own cups and cutlery to use.
More guidance is available in the University COVID-19 Guidelines.
Teaching spaces - are rooms going to be 100% full?
We have moved to 100 per cent capacity in teaching spaces, in line with current ACT Health restrictions and our current level (blue - low risk) of the COVID-safe campus alert system.
To facilitate your planning and implementation, we have uploaded the Safety plan for education delivery spaces that was submitted to ACT Health.
What this looks like
Unfortunately, no changes to centrally timetabled lectures can be made prior to the start of next semester, but local workarounds can occur if practical.
What's involved in planning a COVID-safe event?
Keep up to date with COVID-safe function requirements by heading to the Functions on Campus webpage.
The Functions on Campus Protocols are provided within the 'Reference Documents' and 'Related Links'. The Protocols provide information on the current requirements to hold a COVID safe and compliant event on Acton Campus.
For any specific questions or concerns please contact the Functions on Campus team via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02 6125 4000 (option 3).
Can we travel for University business?
Where can I get support?
If you are in immediate danger, phone 000. If you are safe but require urgent assistance phone ANU Wellbeing and Support Line (for students) on 1300 050 327 or Assure Employee Assistance Program (for staff) on 1800 808 374.
You may also refer to Urgent Support for a list of community services available across Australia and locally in the ACT.
Reach out for support if you need it