Australia’s vaccination program is on a roll, with more than 90 per cent of the population aged 16 or over double vaccinated and more than 1.3 million booster shots already administered.
In light of the Omicron variant, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has reduced the waiting time between the second shot and the booster shot from six to five months, with the Australian Government urging everyone to get their boosters as soon as you are eligible.
Vaccination in Australia is free for everyone, even if you are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident. This includes people without a Medicare card, overseas visitors, international students, migrant workers and asylum seekers.
But if you’ve just arrived in Australia and don’t have a history of vaccination here, getting a booster shot is not as simple as just turning up at a chemist or vaccination hub and rolling up your sleeve. You need to get your paperwork in order first, then the process of getting the booster shot is simple.
“The government has made it fairly easy for anyone to get a vaccination within Australia,” says Catherine Bronger, pharmacist and owner of the 24-hour Chemistworks in Sydney’s Wetherill Park.
“We saw a lot of patients that came in for their first and second shots who weren’t necessarily Australian citizens and didn’t have a Medicare card. So most pharmacists are used to helping those patients through the process.”
For Australian citizens and permanent residents
Step 1: Make sure you have had a recognised vaccine
Fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and eligible visa holders can now travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption. You are considered to be fully vaccinated if you have completed a course of a vaccine approved or recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Currently, this includes:
- Two doses at least 14 days apart of Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), Covishield (AstraZeneca), Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNtech), Spikevax or Takeda (Moderna), Coronavac (Sinovac), Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) or BBIBP-CorV (Sinopharm). The Sinopharm vaccine is only recognised for people aged under 60 years on arrival in Australia.
- One dose of Janssen-Cilag (Johnson & Johnson).
The TGA is continually evaluating other vaccines and adding them to the above list. For the latest information, visit the .
Step 2: Link your overseas vaccinations to the Australian Immunisation Register
If you’re an Australian citizen or resident returning from overseas, you should have access to a Medicare card, which makes the process of recording vaccination administered overseas fairly straightforward - even if you've had them in another country.
The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) records vaccines given to all people in Australia.
“COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia or recognised by the TGA can be reported to the AIR by a recognised vaccination provider in Australia,” said a Department of Health spokesperson.
A nurse administers the Pfizer vaccine to a client at the St Vincent's Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic in Sydney. Source: Getty
You will need to confirm or validate your vaccination history at the vaccination facility before you can get their booster shot.
The past vaccination records must be in English (original or translated). If you would like to get your vaccination history translated, it’s best to go for a NAATI-approved translator.
“While travellers can use certified translators in [foreign countries], we find that using an Australian-based NAATI-accredited translator is the best way to go, so the [healthcare workers] can be assured that the translation is true and correct,” says Brisbane-based Rebecca Baggiano who is special counsel at immigration firm Fragomen.
To find an accredited translator, visit the .
Step 3: Book your booster
To find a vaccination provider near you, visit the .
For foreign nationals
If you’re a foreign national, including an overseas visitor, international student, migrant worker or asylum seeker, and don’t have access to a Medicare card, you’ll need to create a vaccination record in Australia before you can get a booster shot.
Step 1: Create a myGov account
Anyone can create a account, including foreign nationals, who’ll be required to enter their passport and visa details. You’ll need access to a valid Australian phone number to create a myGov account for security reasons.
Step 2: Create your Individual Healthcare Identifier
An Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) is a unique number that helps identify an individual for health purposes in Australia. You don’t need an IHI if you have a Medicare card or a Veteran (DVA) Card.
But in the absence of those, it’s easy to get an IHI. You can request an IHI by using the form . It is, however, quicker to apply online to create an IHI. To do so, simply log into your , select services or link your first service, select IHI service from the list and then simply follow the prompts to get your IHI and link it to your myGov account.
Step 3: Book your booster
Once you’ve got your myGov account and IHI sorted, it’s time to book your booster shot.
To find a vaccination provider near you, visit the and tick the box for people without a Medicare card at the bottom of the screen. This will direct you to relevant clinics where you will be able to book an appointment without a Medicare card.
Don’t forget to carry proof of past vaccine/s administered overseas to the vaccination facility in Australia, along with your IHI details. The healthcare professional at the vaccination facility will be able to record your past vaccinations along with the details of your booster shot on your IHI.
“That process takes about 20 minutes for the healthcare professional to record previous vaccinations histories as well as the booster they’ve delivered to that patient,” Ms Bronger says.
While the booster shot is free for everyone, some pharmacists may charge a fee to help get your vaccination record in order.
“Some of the pharmacists are charging a small private fee for their time to help patients access their IHI or walk them through that process because they’re not remunerated for that by the government,” Ms Bronger says.
The fee can vary from one pharmacy to another so it’s always a good idea to call the pharmacy and check the fee details, if applicable, when making the appointment.