Fourth dose now recommended for cancer patients over 16

Jolyon Attwooll

7/02/2022 3:50:38 PM

The change in ATAGI advice will affect the COVID vaccine recommendations for cancer patients aged 16 and 17 with immediate effect.

Teenager receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
A fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose is recommended for cancer patients 16 and older three months after the completion of their primary course. (Image: AAP)

Cancer Australia has released updated information on COVID-19 vaccination for cancer patients over the age of 16 following the latest change to official advice.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) changed its recommendation last Thursday to open the vaccine booster program to 16–17-year-olds.
It means a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose is now recommended for cancer patients in that age group three months after the completion of their primary course.
The latest ATAGI guidelines were revised last week, with updated guidance for those with severe immunocompromise, which includes cancer patients.
‘Adolescents aged 16–17 years who are severely immunocompromised and have received a third primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine should also receive a booster dose [fourth dose] of the Pfizer vaccine when they become eligible from three months after receiving their third primary dose,’ the advice now reads.
The CEO of Cancer Australia Professor Dorothy Keefe said studies around the world have shown fourth booster doses to be safe and effective.
‘People with cancer may be immunocompromised by their cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, or the disease itself,’ she said.
‘As people who are severely immunocompromised may have a suboptimal response or non-response to the standard two-dose primary vaccine schedule, ATAGI recommends a third primary dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and then a fourth dose or booster in those 16 years and older, to increase their protection.’
Cancer Australia further explained that booster doses are required as people who are immunocompromised can have ‘prolonged COVID-19 infection’, which increases the risk of viral evolution during infection and the development of viral variants.
Eligibility for a fourth booster dose was opened to adults with weakened immune systems over the age of 18 just prior to Christmas last year.
The timings for booster doses for the immunocompromised and the wider population were brought into line with each other at the same time.
Last October, ATAGI changed their clinical guidance for a primary course of vaccination among those with weakened immune systems to three doses.
A primary vaccination course for the immunocompromised is also now defined as three doses among 5–11-year-olds, the youngest age group currently eligible for vaccination.
The recommended gap between the second and third doses is 3–6 months.
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