Australia’s technical advisory group on immunisations (ATAGI) has approved a fourth “winter booster” dose of COVID-19 vaccine for vulnerable and older Australians in a bid to increase “vaccine protection.”
Following the footsteps of countries including Italy, Chile, and Canada, ATAGI recommended the fourth jab to Australians over 65, Indigenous Australians over 50, those in disability care, and those who are immunocompromised over 16.
This comes after the third booster was approved on Feb. 2 and mandated for aged care workers, on Feb. 15, and disability workers, on March 16.
“The additional winter booster dose can be given from four months or longer after the person has received their first booster dose, or from four months after a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, if infection occurred since the person’s first COVID-19 booster dose,” the ATAGI advice reads.
“Comirnaty (Pfizer) or Spikevax (Moderna) are the preferred vaccines for COVID-19 booster doses including the additional winter booster dose.
“Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) can be used when an mRNA vaccine is contraindicated or a person declines vaccination with an mRNA vaccine.
“Nuvaxovid (Novavax) can be used if no other COVID-19 vaccine is considered suitable for that person,” the advisory group’s release stated.
ATAGI is not advising people outside the selected vulnerable and older categories to receive a winter booster.
This includes people younger than 65 with medical conditions that may increase their risk of COVID-19, individuals with disability and National Disability Insurance Scheme recipients who are not in residential disability care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 to 49, workers at health care or residential care facilities, or younger healthy adults.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on March 13 that a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would be necessary, claiming it would reduce hospitalisations.
“We need to understand that the COVID will not go away in the years to come,” Bourla told CBS News.
“We know that the duration of the [vaccine] protection doesn’t last very long,” Bourla said. “If you get sick, you can get sick again next year. … Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary—a fourth booster right now.”
Australian pharmacies, general practitioners, and vaccine clinics will be rolling out the fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses from April 4.
As winter approaches, Health Minister Greg Hunt said a booster was “your best protection” against the most severe impacts of COVID-19 and “may provide protection against long COVID.”
The primary aim of Australia’s vaccination program is to reduce serious illness and reduce the impact on hospitals. While the secondary aim is to prevent transmission, however ATAGI acknowledged that “there is limited evidence at this stage” that “additional booster doses” prevent transmission.
Hunt recommended eligible Australians get the fourth jab before winter, which officially begins in June in the southern hemisphere. On the same day, he announced that a flu vaccine will also be available from April 4.
“Influenza vaccination is particularly important this year,” Hunt said in a statement. “With the easing of international and domestic public health measures arising from the COVID-19 global pandemic, a resurgence of influenza is expected in 2022.”
ATAGI advises that it is safe to have influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd recommended that people “get one vaccine in one arm, the other vaccine in the other arm so that if you do get side effects, you know which vaccine has caused the redness or the swelling or the discomfort.”