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I have asthma, diabetes or another illness — can I get my COVID vaccine yet?

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Written by: Dr Natasha Yates, Assistant Professor, General Practice, Bond University

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

Australia is currently in Phase 1a and Phase 1b of the COVID vaccine rollout but as a GP, I have had many questions from patients unsure if they’re in those categories or not.

One way to find out is to use the Australian government’s eligibility checker here, or ask your GP.

Phase 1a includes quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, aged care and disability care staff/residents.

Phase 1b includes many more categories of people, including

  • healthcare workers currently employed and not included in Phase 1a
  • household contacts of quarantine and border workers
  • critical and high risk workers (including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing)
  • people aged 70 years and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and over
  • adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability.

Many people are unsure if their condition qualifies as an underlying medical condition or significant disability. There is a useful factsheet on Phase 1b on the federal health department website here.

Here’s what you need to know.

What if I have asthma?

Only severe asthma counts. If you have mild or moderate asthma, you do not qualify under Phase 1b. The rate of severe asthma in Australia is under 4%, so most people who have asthma do not have “severe asthma” and so the vast majority don’t qualify under 1b.

If you take a high dose preventer (inhaled corticosteroid) every day and still need to use your reliever puffer (ventolin/salbutamol) more than twice a week, then that is counted as severe.

It may also be counted as severe if you cannot reduce your preventer dose without having an asthma attack — even if you currently have the right mix of medications to keep your asthma under control.

If you have other chronic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis or interstitial lung disease, then you are eligible for a vaccine under Phase 1b.

What about diabetes?

Yes, diabetes is counted as a severe underlying medical condition under Phase 1b. It doesn’t matter if it is Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes — you are eligible for a jab.

Does obesity count?

Yes. Anyone with a BMI over 40 is eligible. Obesity predisposes you to a range of chronic health problems so it is considered serious enough to qualify.

What about heart disease?

It depends. If you’ve had ischaemic heart disease, valvular heart disease, cardiomyopathies and pulmonary hypertension, then you qualify under Phase 1b. It would need to be, for example, a documented heart attack or enlarged heart or clear damage to the valves. If in doubt, ask your GP.

Does high blood pressure count?

Yes, it does if it is difficult to control; so if you are on two or more medications then you are eligible under Phase 1b.

I have cancer or have had it in the past, can I get the jab yet?

It depends, but the answer may well be yes. For example, if you had breast cancer in the last five years you would be eligible. Check the list here.

What about chronic inflammatory conditions?

Some people with chronic inflammatory conditions requiring medical treatments are eligible, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Usually these diseases need treatment with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), immune-suppressive or immunomodulatory therapies.

Osetoarthritis doesn’t count.

This category is generally not inclusive of people living with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome or similar non-immunocompromising inflammatory conditions.

Is kidney disease included?

Yes, but only if you have kidney impairment with an eGFR of <44ml/min. Ask your GP if you are not sure. Mild to moderate chronic kidney disease doesn’t count.

What about migraines?

Probably not. The chronic neurological conditions category includes stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy. It’s generally not inclusive of migraine or cluster headaches.

What if I am a carer?

You might well qualify. Check the details here but many carers of people with serious medical conditions or disability will qualify. I have had many people bringing in someone they care for to be vaccinated, not realising they are also able to get the a shot under this phase of the rollout.

However, family members of people with disability who are not carers aren’t yet eligible. Carers of adults not eligible under Phases 1a or 1b are also not yet able to get the jab.

What’s next?

Phase 2a of the rollout is coming soon. That includes:

  • people aged 50 years and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16-49 years
  • other critical and high risk workers

After that comes Phase 2b, which is where people aged 16-49 years can be vaccinated.

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