the COVID-19 vaccine and Parkinson’s
NSW Health has confirmed that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVIC-19 vaccine has been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The first shipment of doses has arrived in Australia and the TGA will batch test the vaccines to ensure they meet Australia’s strict quality standards.
The Australian Government is leading the vaccine rollout while States and Territories are responsible for implementation. The vaccine supply from the Australian Government will determine how quickly the rollout can occur.
Vaccine shots will be offered free with a phased approach.
The first phase will include quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, aged and disability care staff, and aged and disability care residents.
The second phase will be available to many people living with Parkinson’s. It will include:
- Elderly adults aged 80 years and over
- Elderly adults aged 70-79 years
- Other health care workers
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55
- Younger adults with an underlying medical condition
- Critical and high-risk workers including members of the defence and police forces, firefighters, emergency services personnel and meat processing workers.
Find out more about priority groups and the National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan here.
Your questions about COVID-19 vaccines answered
Q: What vaccines are approved for use in Australia?
A: Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, if they are proved to be safe and effective.
The Government has invested $363 million to support the research and development, to contribute to the global effort to find successful vaccines and treatments to stop the spread of COVID-19.
It also has invested more than $3.3 billion through these four agreements, which will strengthen Australia’s position to access safe and effective vaccines when they become available. The following are covered by the Australian agreements:
University of Oxford/AstraZeneca
One of the most progressed vaccines in development globally for Coronavirus (COVID-19). Available in Australia from early 2021. The vaccine would be manufactured by Australian-headquartered multinational biopharmaceutical company CSL in partnership with the developer, international pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
If the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, and is approved for use, it will be available in Australia from early 2021. The vaccine doses purchased by the Australian Government will be manufactured in the United States, Belgium, and Germany.
Once proven to be safe and effective and approved for use, it will be available in Australia in the first half of 2021. It is expected that 51 million doses will be made available in Australia during 2021, which will be enough to cover Australia’s whole population. Doses for Australia will be manufactured in several locations across Europe.
The Australian Government has joined the COVAX Facility as part of a global effort to support rapid, fair, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. This participation enables the purchase of vaccine doses for Australia as they become available.
Currently 188 countries around the world have entered into the COVAX Facility. The participation of countries like Australia means the facility can invest in a diverse portfolio of potential COVID-19 vaccines and support vaccine manufacturers. It is aiming to mobilise 2 billion doses for the world by the end of 2021, addressing the acute phase of the pandemic.
Q: How do the new COVID-19 vaccines work?
A: Vaccines work by introducing an element into the body that itself can’t cause illness but is recognised as an infection by the immune system. The immune system then responds to the element, giving the body the ability to defend against the actual infection should it encounter it in the future.
In the past, vaccines were created by taking the actual pathogen and weakening it to the point that it doesn’t cause illness or by taking a piece of the pathogen that itself can’t cause disease. This was then injected into the body, inducing the body to create antibodies, which were protective and long lasting, and would work in the future, should the live pathogen enter.
The currently approved vaccines take a pared-down approach. Instead of using a weakened COVID-19 virus or a piece of the virus, the vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA) – genetic instructions for creating a piece of the virus.
Once injected, our own cells turn these instructions into one of the COVID-19 proteins, which by itself is harmless. The protein is recognised as foreign by the body – triggering the protective immune response, which allows it to ‘remember’ COVID-19 as foreign.
mRNA is easier to manufacture in a laboratory in large quantities than a weakened virus. Using mRNA technology has allowed the rapid creation of vaccines, which typically take many years to develop.
Q: Are the new vaccines safe and effective?
A: To date, the approved COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective preventing the severe and even the mild forms of the disease. High efficacy (>90%) has been proved regardless of race, gender, age, and medical conditions.
Similar to other vaccines, there are some side effects with the recently approved COVID-19 vaccines that are considered of low significance. For the most part, side effects have been mild – pain and irritation at the injection site, headache, and low fever). In addition, reactogenicity (an immunologic reaction to vaccines) has been observed occasionally.
The approved mRNA-based vaccines and the vector vaccines under development induce immunization through mechanisms that do not interact with the neurodegenerative process in Parkinson’s.
The reported Phase III data of the approved vaccines showed that the types or incidence of side effects in patients with Parkinson’s have not been different than in the general population.
According to the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society, COVID-19 vaccination does not interfere with the current therapies for Parkinson’s.
Q: Which are the priority groups for vaccination in Australia?
A: the initial priority groups for COVID-19 immunisation identified by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) are:
- People who have an increased risk, relative to others, of developing severe disease or dying from COVID-19:
- Older people
- People with certain pre-existing underlying medical conditions
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- People at an increased risk of exposure, infection, and transmission of COVID-19, or are in a setting with high transmission potential:
- Health and aged care workers
- Other care workers such as group residential care workers and disability care workers
- People in other settings where the risk of virus transmission is increased such as correctional and detention facilities, and meat processing plants.
- People working in critical services:
- Select essential service staff such as emergency services providers, defence forces, public health staff and staff managing quarantine facilities
- People working in supply and distribution of essential goods and services such as food, water, electricity, telecommunications, and other critical infrastructure.
Q: Are there any reasons why a person living with Parkinson’s should not get a COVID-19 vaccine?
A: There are no substantiated scientific concerns to suggest that the vaccines have a different safety profile in people living with Parkinson’s as compared with the general population – what we know about the vaccines for everyone would hold true for those with Parkinson’s.
However, having Parkinson’s might lead to a more complicated infection should you contract COVID-19. Plus, people living with Parkinson’s also tend to be older which further increases risk for complicated COVID-19 infection.
Because of these issues, vaccination for COVID-19 for people living with Parkinson’s is a good idea. Discuss with your doctor any concerns you have about the COVID-19 vaccine, and to find out when and where you can receive the vaccine.
Q: I am 65 years old and I have Parkinson’s. Should I receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
A: In general, your age alone increases your risk of complications from COVID-19 infection. Depending on what Parkinson’s symptoms you have, it can also increase the risk of complications from the virus.
For these reasons, it would be wise to protect yourself as much as possible from COVID-19 – which would include getting vaccinated.
As always, speak to your doctor about your individual situation and to find out when and where you will be able to get the vaccine.
Learn more about COVD-19 vaccines.
- International Parkinson and Movement Disorders Society
- American Parkinson Disease Association
- Australian Government Department of Health
9 February 2021
Study shows COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people living with Parkinson’s
A study authored by a group of Parkinson’s experts – including neurologist Professor Bastiaan ‘Bas’ Bloem who has a global reputation – says COVID-19 vaccination with approved vaccines should be recommended for people living with Parkinson’s (unless there is a specific contraindication).
Based on the interpretation of the scientific literature by the study’s authors:
- Compared to the general population, the risk of COVID-19 infection causing serious, life-threatening disease seems higher for people living with Parkinson’s – at least among those with more advanced disease.
- The approved mRNA-based vaccines and viral vector vaccines under development are not known or expected to interact with the neurodegenerative process in Parkinson’s.
- The types or incidence of side effects of these vaccines in people living with Parkinson’s seem no different than in the general population.
- The vaccines also seem safe for older adults. However, caution is needed with very frail and terminally ill elderly people living with Parkinson’s in long-term care facilities.
- COVID-19 vaccination is not known to interfere with the current therapies of Parkinson’s.
The authors strongly encourage visiting the website of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society where recommendations will be updated as new data are published. Find recommendations for patients here.
COVID-19 Vaccination for Persons with Parkinson’s Disease: Light at the End of the Tunnel? by Bastiaan R. Bloem, MD, PhD, Claudia Trenkwalder, MD, Alvaro Sanchez-Ferro, MD, Lorraine V. Kalia, MD, PhD, Roy Alcalay, MD, Han-Lin Chiang, MD, Un Jung Kang, MD, Christopher Goetz, MD, Patrik Brundin, MD, PhD, and Stella M. Papa, MD. Published online in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, ahead of the publication of Volume 11, Issue 1 (February 2021) by IOS Press.