A leading infectious diseases expert says greater efforts must be made to encourage older Australians to get their COVID booster.
Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist from the Australian National University, says the federal government must lift its messaging to older Australians as they have much to gain and the most to lose by not getting the third jab.
He says the efficacy of the vaccines is much greater for those aged 50 and over.
“We have to change the messaging around the boosters … the older you are, the more benefit you get from the booster,” Prof. Collignon told AAP.
“Everyone needs to get the booster, but some people get more benefit than others, particularly the elderly.”
According to government figures, 94.6 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over have received two doses of a COVID vaccine, but when it comes to the third dose the numbers fall back to 64.6 per cent.
While the booster program in residential aged care –where more than 90 per cent of residents have received a third shot –has been much more successful, reaching older Australians in the community has been more difficult.
“For people over 50, we should be aiming to have the booster at the same level – at more than 90 per cent,” Prof. Collignon says.
The reasons for the lower take-up of the third dose is unclear, but it is down across all age groups. A factor that’s thought to be at play is the concept of ‘vaccine fatigue’ or a sense that the vaccines aren’t working and therefore it’s pointless to keep getting them.
“There is an attitude out there that Omicron isn’t very severe and people think they’ve had two doses, which is enough to protect them,” says University of South Australia epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman. “They can’t be bothered to get it or don’t see why they need it.
“If we want to have broad take-up of booster shots, then we have to have very clear messaging about why it’s needed and we’re not seeing that.”
Deaths from COVID in Australia are still overwhelmingly skewed towards older people. Since the pandemic began, almost 5000 Australians aged 50 and over have died from COVID, compared with just 151 people under the age of 50.
Infection numbers have plateaued in recent weeks, but there are still more than 200,000 active cases across the country, with about 20,000 new cases each day. Almost 2000 people are in hospital.
Prof. Collignon expects those numbers to begin climbing again as winter approaches, and believes the death rate will also grow.
“Ongoing cases will slowly decline and come July and August it will kick back up again because more people are inside,” he says.
“The next concern is where the virus gets into … winter is a risk. I hope I am wrong, but we can do a lot to prevent it.”
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