Extra 7.4 million eligible for fourth COVID shot

Matt Woodley

7/07/2022 2:06:20 PM

ATAGI recommends that everyone aged 50–64 should get a second booster, while those between 30–49 may also receive a fourth dose.

Person receiving COVID-19 vaccine.
People as young as 30 may now get a winter booster, if they choose.

Australia’s winter booster program will be dramatically expanded from Monday 11 July, when around 7.4 million additional people will become eligible to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Confirmation of the new guidelines came via a release from Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler on Wednesday 7 July.
Minister Butler announced that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has determined that expanding eligibility will provide additional protection from severe disease against an expected surge of Omicron subvariant infections, and reduce the burden on Australian hospitals and the healthcare system.
‘We are in the early stages of a third Omicron wave and our government is absolutely committed to making sure as many people as possible are protected with the vaccine,’ he said.
‘My message to everyone living in Australia aged 50 and over is to make sure you have the greatest protection against COVID-19 by having a fourth dose as soon as possible. If you are aged 30–49 and you want that extra protection, you can choose to get a fourth dose.
‘The vaccine experts on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation have recommended it – and the Government has accepted this advice.’
RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett described the move as a ‘sensible decision’ and a ‘positive step’ in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
‘There has never been a more important time to fight complacency and tackle this virus head on,’ he said.
‘Winter is here and … our entire health system, including our hospitals, are groaning under the pressure of helping people in need.
‘It’s essential that we all play our part and do everything we can to protect ourselves and our broader community.’
But while Dr Willett has encouraged those eligible to book a vaccine appointment with their GP, he also asked them to be patient with general practice staff.
‘They may not be able to accommodate you straightaway so I urge everyone to be reasonable and respectful,’ he said.
‘We will get these jabs in arms as soon as we can, but GPs and general practice teams are only human and can’t perform miracles.’
Aside from lowering the age threshold, ATAGI also recommended that the interval between vaccine doses or prior infection (whichever comes later), be reduced to three months to provide earlier additional protection.
However, the advisory group did not support making the fourth dose available to healthy adults under the age of 30, saying it is not yet clear whether the benefits outweigh the risks in this population group.
At the time of publication, only 60% of people aged 65 years and over had received a second booster, leaving nearly 1.5 million people in this cohort on three doses or less.
On the day the expanded eligibility was announced, 60 people were confirmed to have died from COVID, taking the overall Australian tally to 10,191 (7952 in 2022).
Increasing the uptake of fourth doses in the most at-risk population groups in the coming months is anticipated to play a limited, but important, role in reducing the risk to individuals of severe outcomes while taking pressure off Australia’s healthcare system.
But while GPs will again be relied on to play a key role in delivering the additional vaccinations, Dr Willett warned many practices are already struggling to absorb the costs of taking part in the rollout.
‘The scale of the task, including with this latest expansion, has only increased, and we need the Federal Government to step up and provide greater assistance to our hardworking general practice teams,’ he said.
‘That will enable us to run more after-hours and weekend vaccinations and speed up the pace of the rollout at a critical time in the middle of winter.
‘GPs and general practice teams will carry on and get the job done once again. I urge the new Government to get behind us, because we need more support and that needs to happen right now.’
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