Interest spikes as new COVID-19 vaccines land

Jolyon Attwooll

11/12/2023 3:45:50 PM

Supplies are due to arrive in general practices this week, with GPs seeing a significant upturn in patients wishing to get boosted.

The new Pfizer XBB 1.5 COVID-19 vaccine
The new Pfizer XBB 1.5 COVID-19 vaccine. (Image: AAP Photos).

GPs are reporting a leap in interest in COVID-19 vaccination following the approval of two new vaccines, and an eighth wave of COVID-19 infection affecting communities ahead of Christmas.
RACGP NSW&ACT Chair Dr Rebekah Hoffman says she believes the time of year and the availability of new vaccines are helping to drive greater demand.
‘We have definitely had more patient inquiries and more people asking if they’re needing an additional vaccine over the past few weeks,’ she told newsGP.
‘It’s mostly because people are wanting to travel and see loved ones and the idea of a new, up-to-date vaccination is quite enticing for a lot of people.’
The two new vaccines targeting the XBB.1.5 Omicron variant strain of the virus were approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) last month.
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said the vaccines, with one developed by Moderna and the other by Pfizer, will be available mid-way through this month.
ATAGI said the new vaccines are now the preferred vaccine for all doses including for first and second doses as well as boosters, if clinically appropriate.
‘Older vaccine formulations continue to provide strong protection against severe disease,’ the ATAGI advice states.
‘Available data suggests monovalent XBB vaccines provide modestly enhanced protection from severe disease compared to older vaccines.’
Both vaccines are approved for use in people aged 12 and over, with a separate Pfizer formula also available for children aged 5–12.
Dr Hoffman, who expects vaccine supplies to arrive at her clinic this week, said the inquiries she is fielding are from patients who have just become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination or from those looking for a further booster dose.
‘I’ve had a few people who have become newly eligible, mostly based on age, mostly children or younger people,’ she said.  
‘I haven’t had anybody who’s been eligible all the way through who has now decided they’d like to be vaccinated.’
Melbourne GP and clinic owner Dr Mukesh Haikerwal has also noticed a significant upturn in demand.
‘It’s been quite a turnaround,’ he told newsGP.  
‘After many months of not really very much interest in boosting, we have many more people actually wanting to get the doses and going onto a waiting list, which we haven’t had for a long time.’
In September, ATAGI published advice that all adults over the age of 75 should have a further COVID-19 vaccine booster if it has been at least six months since their previous dose.
For those who have already had a booster within that timeframe, ATAGI does not recommend any extra doses with the new vaccines.
According to the latest Federal Government COVID-19 vaccination statistics, less than a quarter of over-75s eligible for a booster have received one in the past six months.
Geelong GP and clinic owner Dr Bernard Shiu is expecting supplies to arrive by Friday, which he believes will help with take-up.
Local pharmacies already have the new vaccines in stock and are administering them to patients, he told newsGP.
‘There is much greater interest for this new one, and for getting boosted during the last 2–3 weeks,’ he said.
According to Dr Haikerwal, the eighth wave of COVID-19 is also having an impact.
‘The prevalence of the illness around the community is definitely getting more people interested getting their vaccines,’ he said.
Dr Haikerwal also hopes the supply chain issues that plagued the early pandemic rollout have been ironed out for the new vaccines.
He said the latest batch arrived already thawed, limiting the amount of time they could be used – but he welcomed the introduction of single-dose packaging, which he said cut down on vaccine wastage.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved both monovalent XBB 1.5 vaccines for use in October, with the ATAGI recommendation published the following month.
The vaccines have also ben approved in several other areas, including in the UK, the US and the EU.
For Dr Hoffman, the process of introducing new vaccines is now a familiar one for Australian general practices.
‘GPs are pretty well experts in this space now and they know what they’re doing,’ she said.
‘We’ve got it under control, and we’ll get out there and keep doing what we do.’
ATAGI has said further vaccination advice will be released in early 2024.  
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