”Boosters are not an option; boosters must be had.”
This was the no-nonsense message delivered by Norman Swan, doctor and ABC radio journalist, to aged care providers at the LASA virtual forum From Pandemic to Endemic: The Future of Aged Care and COVID-19 today.
It is a message that Swan has been maintaining for months now, being one of the first experts to speak out about the necessity of redefining the COVID-19 vaccine schedule as a three-dose regimen.
“These are not boosters, these are third doses,” he said.
Swan explained that the booster rollout simply must be prioritised by residential aged care, whose residents are especially susceptible to further outbreaks going forward.
“The immune response in the elderly is lower than the rest of the population and almost certainly the vaccine waning is faster,” he said.
He notes that those who have received Astra Zeneca may see their immunity waning come the four month mark after their last dose, with Pfizer recipients’ waning after an estimated 5-6 months.
“It doesn’t take much to go back to a bad situation,” Swan said.
On the question of boosters beyond a third dose, Swan says it is too early to say, but he remains tentatively confident in the three-dose regimen.
“We don’t know… but I think it’s unlikely,” he said.
He said that although there have been some promising developments in anti-viral medication development, vaccination remains the only proven form of protection against the virus.
“I would not pin your hopes on antivirals” he said.
“Don’t think those are your insurance, vaccinations are your insurance.”
Swan also emphasised the vaccination of 5 to 11-year-old children as the next priority for Government.
“We do need to immunise the 5 to 11-year-olds, and that’s important for you in the aged care community… it will reduce the circulating virus and that’s what you, as a centre, want.”
Swan’s recommendations came as Pfizer released a study today suggesting that among fully vaccinated individuals, those with weakened immune systems are “about three times more likely” to be infected with COVID-19.
However, the overall proportion of breakthrough infections observed was incredibly low.
Whilst 17.7 per cent of the 1.2 million study participants were immunocompromised, only 0.18 per cent of this cohort were found to experience a breakthrough infection.
The Federal Government initiated its booster program within residential aged care facilities in October, but is yet to release data on its progress.
The Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and recommended by ATAGI as the preferred vaccine for booster doses.
According to the federal health department, AstraZeneca Vaxrevria vaccine will be available as a booster for those who cannot receive the Pfizer dose for medical reasons.
ATAGI is yet to release booster advice relating to Moderna’s Spikevax vaccine.