Australians who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been ordered to wait 12 weeks between their first and second dose to maximize the effectiveness of the jabs.
However, the worsening outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in greater Sydney has triggered a change in tone in advice from health authorities.
NSW Director of Health Dr Kerry Chant is now begging anyone who has ever received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to talk to their doctor about reducing the interval period to six weeks. She said sacrificing “a little long-term protection” was justified given the threat of the current outbreak.
If you live in Greater Sydney, here’s everything you need to know about getting ahead of your second dose of AstraZeneca, what it means for immunity, boosters and uptime.
Is the shorter interval recommended for everyone?
The reduced interval only applies to residents of greater Sydney, with the 12 week interval between doses still recommended for anyone outside of this region.
This is due to the higher risk in greater Sydney with the virus circulating in the community. Chant said that with the Delta variant, two doses are needed to protect most people from serious illness.
Chant stressed the importance for older residents in particular to advance their second dose given their increased susceptibility to serious illnesses from Covid.
She said elderly patients seeking to make an appointment for a vaccine would be prioritized during the current outbreak.
At what stage should I contact my GP to make an earlier appointment for my second dose?
Chant said that as soon as four weeks have passed since the first dose, people should contact their GP to book a second dose, six to eight weeks after their first injection.
If eight weeks have already passed, people should contact their GP to offer the second dose as soon as possible.
Where can I make an appointment for a second dose earlier?
Chant, working with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, advised anyone in greater Sydney to speak to their GP first about their second dose in advance.
Earlier second doses can also be booked at state and federal run immunization clinics.
However, due to supply issues and availability of reservations, not all general practitioners and vaccination centers participating in the deployment were able to advance appointments for the second doses scheduled in the coming weeks. given the continued priority of administering the first doses.
Sydney residents looking to move their second dose appointments forward to this week have told Guardian Australia they have been turned away by their local GP clinics. A spokesperson for the RACGP said while some general practitioners in Sydney reported an increase in advance appointment requests for the second dose on Monday, it was not the majority.
I want my second dose as soon as possible. Where do I have the best chance of booking it?
If you’ve tried calling your GP and they’ve told you it was okay to bring your second dose forward but there was no availability, you have several options.
The federal government’s vaccine eligibility checker is a good place to start, as it will display general practitioner appointments, as well as state and federal clinics.
If you still couldn’t find an appointment, we’ve heard that some people in Sydney have had success using the Hotdoc GP online booking site.
I still cannot find an appointment for the second dose. What should I do?
There is a good chance that the availability of reservations will open in the coming days, as vaccine supplies and new vaccination centers come online in greater Sydney.
On Monday, the NSW government announced that its vaccination clinics will begin making the AstraZeneca vaccine available to people over the age of 40, which should ease pressure on general medicine clinics.
However, Chant stressed that elderly residents would be given priority for vaccine reservations in the state during the current outbreak, so your age could affect how easily you can advance your second dose.
I’m under 40, how do I fit into all of this?
If you are under 40 and are not yet eligible for the Pfizer vaccine recommended for your age group, you can talk to a general practitioner about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. If you do, you can reserve your second dose in accordance with the shortened six week second dose interval window that is now encouraged in Sydney.
So there is a trade-off here if I advance my dose. I know the government wants us to do this, but is it the right choice for me? Is it safe?
Guardian Australia medical editor Melissa Davey has read the research, spoken to the experts, and wrote this full rationale on the effects of ahead of a second dose, which you can read here.
In short, she writes that there are concerns that the shorter interval between doses may result in less protection against the virus, including variants, as the independent expert group Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization advises that efficacy against symptomatic diseases “ranges from about 62 to 73% with the higher efficacy seen after a longer interval between doses.
But that effectiveness is still pretty good when a second dose is given around day 22 – around three weeks – after the first dose, at around 60 percent, Atagi said.
“Shortening the 12-week interval to at least four weeks between doses is acceptable and may be appropriate in certain circumstances, for example, impending travel or anticipated risk of exposure to Covid-19,” says the advisory. ‘Atagi.
How do the boosters play in this? Will they improve the immunity of people who shorten their interval between doses of AstraZeneca?
This is something authorities have highlighted as a way to reassure those affected by a compromise on long-term immunity.
On Monday, Chant said “clearly, having the vaccine within six to eight weeks compromises the length of protection this vaccine could provide you, but we know that in the future we will provide booster doses of various vaccines and what we want to do is protect you ”.
RACGP Director Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe went further, saying GPs would likely look at which patients had advanced their interval between doses when they sought to prioritize reminder appointments once approved. .
“We will definitely consider giving boosters to those who get them early,” she told Guardian Australia. “You’ll actually have an advantage getting there early because we’ll keep you on this list. “
Is NSW’s advice radical here? Is this the first jurisdiction to administer AstraZeneca vaccines with an interval window shorter than 12 weeks?
No, NSW is not the first here. In June, the UK made a decision to reduce the interval between vaccine doses from 12 weeks to eight weeks due to the spread of the Delta variant.