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Boosters’ Omicron impact outlined in vaccination tool update


Matt Woodley


18/02/2022 5:21:22 PM

GPs and patients can now generate personalised information on the risks and benefits associated with choosing whether or not to receive a booster shot.

GP showing older patient the risk calculator.
The risk calculator shows it is especially important for older people to receive a booster.

Despite recent commentary from at least one high profile infectious disease physician labelling Omicron as ‘clearly not as threatening as the flu’, Professor Colleen Lau and the 20-strong team behind the COVID Risk Calculator (CoRiCal) have a simple message.
 
‘Get the booster as soon as you are eligible.’
 
While the latest variant of concern is less severe than previous strains, according to the former GP and current professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Queensland, the risk–benefit profile remains decidedly in favour of vaccination, including boosters.
 
‘The main messages are vaccines work, but vaccine effectiveness wanes after the second dose,’ Professor Lau told newsGP.
 
‘And the chances of getting severe illness and dying is much higher in older age groups, so it’s important – especially for older people – to make sure they get their boosters as soon as possible.
 
‘Boosters will help reduce the chances of people getting infected, but also will reduce the chances of ongoing transmission, reduce the chains of transmission happening in a community, and also reduce the chances of severe illness and chances of dying.’
 
To help assuage concerns related to myocarditis and other potential rare side effects associated with the vaccine, the researchers have painstakingly reviewed the latest research, data and modelling associated with COVID-19, as well as vaccination.
 
They then used that data to underpin modelling and analysis used to determine a person’s risk of death due to COVID – or vaccination – based on age, sex and current level of community transmission in their area.
 
Professor Lau says the painstaking work has confirmed that the chances of developing any kind of fatal or severe side effect are much higher with COVID infection than any of the vaccines currently approved for use in Australia.
 
‘[For example], the chance of developing myocarditis if you get COVID is actually much, much higher compared to your chance of getting it if you receive the vaccine,’ she said.
 
‘Teenage boys are at higher risk than other age groups and higher risk than girls. But there was a paper published just last week in Nature Medicine about the long-term cardiovascular complications of COVID that basically showed much higher risk of all sorts of cardiovascular complications [compared to vaccination, regardless of age].
 
‘This included myocarditis, even in people who did not have a severe acute illness … [or] end up in hospital.’
 
But even though Australia has recorded more COVID deaths in the first seven weeks of 2022 than all of 2020 and 2021 combined, booster uptake has been slow and barely 50% of the eligible population had received their third or fourth dose at the time of publication on 18 February.
 
To help people further understand the implications of their choice in relation to vaccination, the team is now hoping to further update the tool in the coming weeks.
 
‘At the moment, our calculator is quite focused on the risk of dying from COVID,’ Professor Lau said.
 
‘But we also need to expand the calculator to include other outcomes, such as ICU admission, hospitalisation and long COVID … and expand the calculator to include comorbidities.
 
‘We’re also in the process of working on another calculator focused on children … so all of that requires a lot of work.’
 
Meanwhile should another variant of concern emerge – which is a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’ according to Professor Lau – that will also require another update.
 
‘It’s forever a work in progress … [but] we’ve had some really good feedback from GPs and infectious disease physicians, as well as requests from various groups to include other things into the calculator.
 
‘Watch this space.’
 
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Dr Erin Smith   19/02/2022 9:48:20 AM

This is an extremely helpful tool, it will be good to see its use extended to include children


Dr Jane Elizabeth Burges   19/02/2022 11:37:07 AM

I'm wondering if there is any news on variant specific vaccines eg omicron and when we may access them in Australia.