Australians will be encouraged to get their COVID-19 boosters in a fresh advertising blitz amid lagging vaccine uptake and an expected increase in cases.
The campaign will target the six million Australians who have yet to get their third vaccine to be fully protected against the virus during the winter period.
The $11 million “take on winter” message will also focus on addressing the vaccination gap among the Indigenous community, as well as parents of children aged five to 11 years old.
It is critical for people to get their booster dose as soon as possible, Health Minister Mark Butler said.
“If you have only had two doses of the vaccine, you are not fully protected,” Butler told reporters in Canberra.
“We’re still seeing an enormous loss of life, enormous dislocation and massive pressure on our health and our hospital systems, and on top of that, influenza has returned to the country as well.”
The health minister also spruiked two oral anti-viral treatments for COVID-19 which he wants more vulnerable Australians to access.
Timing is critical to get the best results and older Australians as well as people with underlying medical conditions should have a COVID plan in place with their GPs, he said.
Butler also encouraged Australians to get a flu shot as health professionals and hospitals report increasing numbers of people seeking treatment for respiratory illness.
While Australia was through the worst of the pandemic, the health minister said there was still a large number of cases across the country.
There were more than 3000 patients in hospital with COVID-19 — representing one in 20 hospital beds — and about 300 deaths from the virus each week, he said.
The vaccination rate among five to 11-year-olds is about 40 per cent for two doses, compared with about 80 per cent for 12 to 15-year-olds.
The new campaign was crucial for vaccine uptake among the Indigenous population, given their uptake rate was up to 20 per cent lower than the general population, Butler said.
The health minister also stressed the need for the fourth dose rate to increase among those in aged care, with just 54 per cent of residents in the sector having had their second booster.
“We have to do better, we have to get that rate up and protect the most vulnerable Australians that we have in this community,” he said.
It comes as experts say more COVID variants are likely to emerge in Australia, but do not believe them to be cause for concern.
“It could be a further descendant of Omicron but it could also be something that looks closer to Delta or one of the earliest strains,” University of Sydney’s Dr Megan Steain said.
“But we’ve got a lot more resources now to handle this virus.
“Rather than the stricter measures, we need to use booster doses, particularly in vulnerable populations, as well as antivirals,” Steain said.