Millions of Australians could soon be cleared to get a second COVID-19 booster shot after the Federal Government warned the nation is in the early stages of a fresh wave of the potentially fatal virus.
However, expanding eligibility for a fourth COVID-19 jab could leave those most vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly, behind in the broader vaccine rollout, a leading expert has warned.
Emerging variants are more infectious, can reinfect those who have already had COVID-19 and are more damaging to the lungs than previous versions of the virus, experts say.
Currently a fourth vaccination — or second booster — is only available to those over 65, people in aged or disability care and the immunocompromised.
But Australia’s immunisation experts could recommend a fourth dose for anyone over the age of 50, and allow anyone over 30 to have another booster if they wish.
Australian National University infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said those who were more vulnerable to the virus should still be prioritised for a fourth dose.
“By looking at everybody for this, we’re missing the people who are most at risk,” he told Sky News on Thursday,
“By doing the whole population as we’re doing, and implying almost everybody’s equal, I think we’re missing the people who are dying the most, and that’s those who are older.”
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) discussed the benefits of expanding the fourth dose eligibility at a meeting on Wednesday.
ATAGI has delayed recommending a fourth shot until a fresh wave of infections threatened, Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Moy said.
“(ATAGI has) been under pressure for a long time now to go to the fourth shot for everybody,” Moy told ABC radio on Thursday.
“We’re facing a new surge, a really worrying surge … we are looking at hospitals which are already full facing a real disaster in terms of being overrun, so this is why I think the decision is coming.”
Federal health minister Mark Butler has said he does not expect to get ATAGI’s official advice on the extra shot until Friday.
Butler has warned Australia is in the early stages of a fresh wave of COVID-19.
“Case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are up by several hundred just in the fortnight, and most state governments and the Federal Government are projecting that that’s going to continue for some time yet,” he said in Adelaide.
“We are absolutely committed to doing whatever we can as a government to get through this winter and get through this third Omicron wave that’s headed our way.”
Collignon said with rising cases across the country, reinfection would be a bigger risk.
“Until we get new vaccines that are better at stopping that, I think we have to accept that we’re likely to get second infections,” he said.
“But it will be much less severe in general and have less consequences than that first infection.”
Meanwhile, young people have had the largest drop in life satisfaction since the start of the pandemic, according to a new study.
The Australian National University’s COVID-19 Impact Monitoring survey has found those aged 18 to 24 had experienced a significant reduction in life satisfaction since the beginning of 2020.
Their average life satisfaction rating now sits at 6.3 points out of a possible 10, after falling by 0.5.
The survey of more than 3500 people assessed how the pandemic affected their lives and also found men and women had experienced a similar drop in life satisfaction since the pandemic began.
But those over 55 were less likely to suffer a drop compared to those under 55.
Study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said greater access to employment and education opportunities should be factored into COVID-19 policy solutions for young people.