Australia's body for GPs has revealed just how tricky it will be for people to attain a legitimate digital Covid-19 vaccine exemption certificate, set to launch this month.
Despite popular belief among vaccine-hesitant circles, they won't be handed out to people with chronic illnesses, auto-immune conditions, blood clotting disorders, allergies, or histories of strokes or heart attacks.
In fact, "almost no one" in Australia will be eligible for an exemption, according to Professor Kristine Macartney, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS).
The only people the three Covid vaccines available in Australia could be dangerous for are those with allergies to both polyethylene glycol (PEG) – contained in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – and polysorbate 80, an ingredient of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Macartney told The Age newspaper.
She said the ingredients were "very very common" in everyday products like cosmetics and bathroom staples, so people with allergies to them would already be well aware.
President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Karen Price, confirmed there was a "very small" group of people who couldn't be vaccinated.
"Only a very small number of people can't get a vaccine due to what we call 'contraindications'," Price said.
"And for those people who have a contraindication to one vaccine, other vaccine options are available, so there would be a minuscule number of people who can't get any vaccine, if any."
The only other reasons a vaccine may need to be temporarily deferred would be due to an acute medical condition like major surgery or hospital admission, or if someone is recovering from Covid-19, Price added.
Allergic reactions extremely rare
While severe allergic reactions were possible, they were extremely rare and affected only about one in every 100,000 people.
Additionally, those who did experience a reaction after getting a vaccine would know about 15 minutes afterwards and could be easily treated, Professor Macartney said.
In most cases, an alternative vaccine could still be safely administered for the individual's second shot.
Vaccine safe for seriously ill
Dr Price added that each of the vaccines were safe for people in the grips of serious medical treatment like chemotherapy, surgery, and an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant.
It was more a matter of timing the vaccine so as not to disrupt the course of treatment, Price said.
"I urge people with chronic health conditions who have concerns about the vaccine to seek proper medical advice – speak to your GP. Please don't miss the opportunity to be vaccinated due to misinformation," she said.
"The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. So far more than six billion vaccination doses have been given in the world. And we've seen in other countries that Covid-19 vaccines have proven to protect people, reducing the number of deaths and severe cases requiring hospitalisation, and allowing countries to open up while the virus is still in the community."
She said it was even more important that vulnerable people with chronic medical conditions were vaccinated.
"We know that those who end up in hospital ICU and with serious Covid-related complications are largely the unvaccinated."
Abusive behaviour 'not on'
Dr Price said she was aware of Australian health staff being abused by patients upset at not being given a medical exemption from the vaccine.
"I know anecdotally that many practice receptionists and other members of the team, as well as GPs have copped a great deal of abuse from patients seeking 'medical exemptions' for vaccination," she said.
"This is not on, abusive behaviour is never okay."