Updated vaccines targeting COVID variant XBB.1.5 are still not available in Australia, despite being approved for use a month ago.
In early October, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved two new COVID vaccines from pharmaceutical giants Moderna and Pfizer that are tailored to combat the XBB.1.5 variant currently sweeping the world.
The vaccines are in use in the US, the UK and the European Union, having been approved there back in September.
When will new vaccines be available here?
In Australia, the updated vaccines are approved for use in people aged five and above, but there are still a number of hurdles to clear before they are added to the national vaccine rollout program.
The vaccines are being scrutinised by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and a spokesperson for the federal department of health and aged care said ATAGI should have a determination within a week.
“ATAGI is expected to provide advice to the minister for health and aged care on the potential use of XBB vaccines in the coming week,” the spokesperson told SBS News.
“Any updated ATAGI advice, including availability of XBB vaccines, will be communicated with providers and the public as soon as possible.”
The spokesperson also said that current COVID vaccines “continue to provide good protection against serious illness and death”.
What does this mean for the current COVID wave?
Unfortunately, the XBB variant has arrived in Australia before the vaccines have been approved. The result has been a sharp increase in COVID cases and related deaths, particularly in NSW and Victoria.
COVID case numbers were once the key indicator to identify new waves. But since testing and reporting were scaled back, experts have instead used increases in COVID-related hospital admissions and antiviral prescriptions to gauge numbers.
It’s causing concern as Christmas approaches, with the potential for exponential spread as more people travel.
ATAGI recommends a vaccine booster dose for all adults aged 65 and older, and those aged between 18 and 64 with medical comorbidities or complex health needs.
Healthy adults aged between 18 and 64, and children aged between five and 17 at risk of severe illness, should “consider” rolling up their sleeves, ATAGI says.
If it’s been more than six months since your last vaccine booster, ATAGI says its better to get a jab now with existing vaccines rather than wait for the new XBB vaccine to be approved.
When was the last time you had a COVID booster? Have you had COVID this year? Let us know in the comments section below.