The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the expansion of the COVID-19 winter booster program.
It comes following the Federal Government accepting the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), which recommended that all people aged 16 to 64 with specified risks factors be eligible to receive a second COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.
ATAGI recommended the change to ensure patients who are at greater risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19 have the best possible protection.
People who are now recommended to receive a second booster dose include those with immunocompromising conditions, cancers, specific chronic inflammatory conditions, chronic liver disease, chronic lung disease and severe chronic kidney disease.
Patients who are eligible for a second booster dose but have had a recent infection of COVID-19, should delay their second booster until three months after their infection.
RACGP president Adjunct Professor Karen Price welcomed the decision.
“The pandemic is far from over and this winter booster expansion is a positive step forward,” she said.
“Australia is a vaccination nation and our COVID-19 vaccination rates are something we should be extremely proud of.
“Now, people with certain risk factors that would make them more susceptible to severe effects from COVID-19 have the opportunity to receive a second booster dose, which will further enhance their immune response to the virus.
“I encourage anyone who falls in this cohort to step forward and receive their second booster jab with their usual GP.
“Winter is fast approaching, and we have high community transmission of COVID-19 in all corners of the country.
“By receiving a second booster dose, you can help protect yourself against severe effects from COVID-19 and limit transmission in the broader community.
Price said people should keep in mind that the nation’s healthcare system is under enormous pressure at the moment.
“COVID-19 and influenza cases are climbing, and many hospitals are over-stretched, so by expanding the booster dose program we can help keep more people out of hospitals beds which is a win-win for all concerned.”
Price also repeated warnings that general practices need a helping hand.
“This latest announcement is good news for patients who are particularly vulnerable if they contract COVID-19, but once again I warn that GPs and general practice teams are under enormous pressure and need a helping hand,” she said.
“We are delivering influenza vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses including vaccines to children, which is a more time consuming and complicated process compared to vaccinating adults.
“Practices are also managing our day-to-day patient caseload, including people who delayed or avoided consultations and screenings during the pandemic, as well as people with mental health concerns.
“We have been the backbone of the vaccine rollout for more than a year now.
“Some practices are still very much struggling to absorb the cost of taking part in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“They didn’t put their hand up to take part for the money; however, the reality is that practices do have to make ends meet.
Price said the new Government has a great opportunity to get behind the nation’s general practices and make sure they have the resources they need.
“We need greater funding and support for general practice teams and it’s important to keep in mind that this will enable more practices to run after-hours and weekend vaccination clinics.
“This would be a fantastic start for the Government and a clear demonstration that they have GPs and their hardworking general practice teams front of mind.”