Health Minister Mark Butler has sought urgent advice on ways to boost the uptake of fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in aged-care facilities amid a rising number of deaths in the sector.
As the Federal Government indicated a vaccine for children aged between six months and five-years-old was being considered for approval in Australia, Butler said it was critical for booster rates to increase during winter.
He said just over 50 per cent of aged care residents had got their fourth vaccine dose, or second booster, since it was made available.
“There are hundreds of facilities that today have outbreaks. There are many, many hundreds of cases among aged care residents,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“We’re seeing dozens of aged care deaths every week, so that simply isn’t good enough.”
Currently, a fourth dose is only available for those 65 and older, along with those in aged or disability care, Indigenous people over 50, as well as those who are immunocompromised.
Butler said he was seeking advice on what the federal government could do to increase second booster rates, particularly in aged care.
“The aged care program has got to a very good place with that third dose, but we’ve got to do the next thing now, which is the fourth dose,” he said.
“We’ve written to aged care facilities reminding them of the importance to put energy into this fourth dose program.”
It comes as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is considering an application from drug maker Moderna to allow its vaccines to be given to children aged from six months to five-years-old.
Butler said while the vaccine had been approved by US regulators, it would still take some time for similar approvals in Australia.
“It’ll probably be a few weeks before the TGA to go through their processes, you’ll then go to the advisory committee on vaccines,” he said.
Australians will have access to a single vaccine for COVID-19 and influenza by 2024 as clinical trials are set to begin.
The combined shot for flu, COVID-19 and respiratory virus RSV was in the early testing stages, with trials to start later this year, Moderna chief medical officer Dr Paul Burton said.
Burton expects combined vaccines will be key to fighting respiratory diseases in the aftermath of the pandemic, and to adapting to multiple strains within one season.
He said bringing vaccines together and adapting would be the future as the world considered diseases other than COVID-19.