COVID-19 and Immunodeficiency Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Updated 16 August 2021

This information has been developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, for people with primary or secondary immunodeficiencies. 

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Q 1: What is COVID-19 and how does it spread?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections, including the common cold and more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Seve

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes COVID-19 (coronavirus disease), and symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath. This virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in December 2019.

Studies to date suggest that COVID-19 is mainly spread through contact with respiratory droplets and aerosols containing the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

COVID-19 can spread when people:

  • Inhale droplets or aerosols containing the virus, that are shed by a person with COVID-19.
  • Touch a person or surface that is contaminated with droplets containing the virus.

Q 2: Why is COVID-19 vaccination important?

Vaccination is an important way to reduce the risk of developing infectious diseases which can easily spread. This includes COVID-19, which is caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Immunity occurs after the vaccine stimulates a person’s immune system to make antibodies (immunoglobulins) to help protect the body from future infections. This means that if a person is vaccinated, they will be less likely to get COVID-19. Even if a person does get infected, it is likely to be a milder illness.

Public health measures and restrictions that have been implemented by the Australian and New Zealand governments since March 2020 have suppressed the spread of COVID-19 in our countries. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a major cause of illness and deaths worldwide, and local outbreaks continue to occur.

This means that vaccination programs are required throughout the world, including Australia and New Zealand

More information is available on the ASCIA website

Q 3: Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for people with immunodeficiencies?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines that are approved for use in Australia and New Zealand are safe for people with primary or secondary immunodeficiencies.

People with certain pre-existing medical conditions have been identified as priority groups for COVID-19 vaccines. This includes people with immunodeficiencies, who are immunocompromised and are therefore at greater risk of any infections.

People with immunodeficiencies should follow the usual advice from their clinical immunology/allergy specialist regarding vaccinations or ask for specific advice regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Q 4: Do immunodeficiency treatments need to be stopped to have a COVID-19 vaccine?

It is important that regular treatments for immunodeficiencies are continued, because stopping these treatments can place people with these conditions at greater risk from COVID-19.

Vaccination should occur on a different day (if possible) from regular infusion treatments, such as immunoglobulin (Ig) or immunosuppressant infusions.

For example, people on monthly intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) may be advised by their specialist to be vaccinated two weeks after an IVIg infusion.

This avoids confusion about the cause of side effects or allergic reactions, if they occur in response to the COVID-19 vaccine or the infusion treatment.

People on regular treatments should talk to their specialist about the best time to have a COVID-19 vaccine.

Q 5: What precautions should people with immunodeficiencies take?

Most people with immunodeficiencies are considered to be at greater risk of any respiratory infections. Precautions they take to prevent infections are consistent with the actions listed below, and they should follow the usual advice from their physician.

People with severe immunodeficiency, including those undergoing bone marrow (stem cell) transplant are at high risk from all infections. They will already be aware of the need to avoid infections, (including actions listed below) and what to do if they are unwell or come in contact with any infectious disease.

People with immunodeficiencies who receive monthly immunoglobulin replacement therapy infusions in hospitals still need to receive their treatment. Hospital infection control policies are in place with extra precautions to isolate patients with, or at risk of getting COVID-19. If infection of COVID-19 is suspected at the time of infusion, promptly contact the treating team for advice.

Q 6: What actions can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections?

In addition to vaccination and continuing regular treatments, the following actions should be taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections,

  • Hand hygiene. Regular and thorough hand washing with soap and water throughout the day, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating is vital for preventing infections. Alcohol-based hand-gel can be used to sanitise hands when soap and water isn’t available. Avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth) and do not shake hands or make any other greeting that involves contact. Hands touch many surfaces that may be contaminated with the virus, which can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter the body and cause illness.
  • Respiratory hygiene. This means covering the mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing, then disposing of the used tissue immediately in a rubbish bin.
  • Physical distancing. It is important to maintain at least one metre distance away from anyone, to avoid inhaling droplets or aerosols containing the virus when a person with COVID-19 talks, coughs or sneezes.
  • Stay home if unwell. If anyone has a fever, cough or breathing difficulty, they should stay home and phone to seek medical advice or attention.
  • Follow local health authority instructions and avoid places where there is a high risk of disease spread.

© ASCIA 2021

ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology/allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand.

ASCIA resources are based on published literature and expert review, however, they are not intended to replace medical advice. The content of ASCIA resources is not influenced by any commercial organisations.

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Content updated August 2021