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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Australia given thumbs up for COVID-19 booster shot, aged care sector a priority

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COVID-19 booster shots are expected to be available in a matter of weeks for all Australians aged 18 and over, after the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine received provisional approval by the Therapeutics Goods Administration Wednesday morning.

The administration recommended the top-up be given six months after a person’s second dose, with those living and working in aged care and disability care given top priority.

Health Minister Greg Hunt indicated that the third Pfizer dose, to be made available to the general public no later than November 8, would be available to all Australians, no matter which brand they had received for their previous two doses.

“It’s a universal booster, so it’s available for people who have had Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Professor Damian Purcell, head of the molecular virology laboratory at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said that the Government’s decision was informed by safety and efficacy data presented at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on Monday night.

“There was strong protective benefit from breakthrough infections after administering a third dose [of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines] to previously vaccinated people who were showing reduced immunity six months after their second dose,” he said.

“The boosted immunity reached even higher levels than originally attained after the second dose and had much better protection against the new variants of concern, such as the Delta strain.”  

Severely immunocompromised Australians are already eligible to receive booster shots.

TGA boss John Skerritt said a recent study on 1000 people showed a third jab increased vaccine efficacy to 96 per cent.

“Boosters may give additional protection against mild COVID and they may have an impact on having transmission,” he said.

“We do know that in the elderly, and people of various shades of immunocompromised, that an additional dose is particularly valuable, and it may provide reassurance for frontline health workers.”

Hunt said there would be no targets set for the number of Australians who would get a booster shot and it would not be mandated by the Commonwealth.

“We don’t want to put any limits on that and we want every eligible Australian to do so,” Hunt said.

“There’s only one (booster) shot that’s required and there is sort of an unconstrained supply … we’re in a very strong situation.”

It is estimated that by January there will be 1.6 million people who will have been fully vaccinated for six months or more and will be eligible for the boosters.

The Government expects Moderna will also make an application to the TGA to register their vaccine for booster approval.

“This is an important step and it will mean that Australia will be one of the most highly vaccinated societies in the world,” Hunt said.

Hunt confirmed the fully vaccinated rate across the country has increased to 74.8 per cent, while 87.4 per cent have had a first dose.

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