COVID booster 'dramatically' lifts defences, but GPs plead for help

The race is on to provide as much protection as possible against the rampant Omicron variant, which is responsible for huge surges in positive COVID cases, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

And while the success of booster shots and news of a new Pfizer COVID pill are welcome, doctors are highlighting problems.

Researchers at the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW say booster shots dramatically increase defences against Omicron.

They found that two doses of a COVID vaccine offered only limited protection but that a third shot of an mRNA vaccine lifted protection against severe disease and hospitalisation by up to 98 per cent. They also say boosters may be required every six months.

The government has already declared that boosters be given five months after the second shot instead of six – the recommendation in the UK is three months – and almost 900,000 people have received a third shot, with 4.1 million people eligible by the end of December.

Read: Booster shot program brought forward to fight Omicron

But GPs are struggling to meet demand.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned the government that the booster program is being swamped and that more stock is desperately needed.

AMA president Omar Khorshid says doctors and chemists are not being properly supported in this stage of the vaccine rollout.

“While we recognise that the state and territory vaccination hubs have taken nurses out of hospitals, aged care and other health settings, it is critical that state and territory governments continue to run these clinics to ensure adequate access to vaccines for Australians needing their booster shot,” he said.

“By the end of this month, close to four million people will be eligible for the booster. However, in the last week Australia has only been able to administer just over 210,000 booster doses.”

Read: How you’ll be reminded to get your booster

Appointments have been limited in some states, including in NSW and Victoria, with some eligible people turned away due to lack of stock at pop-up sites in the ACT, the Australian Financial Review reports.

Health authorities says tens of thousands of daily infections are likely by the new year and Omicron is expected to be the dominant strain.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has announced that its COVID pill is able to stave off severe disease in a key clinical trial and is likely to work against Omicron

The treatment, called Paxlovid, could be available in the US before the end of the year.

Pfizer says the pill reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 88 per cent when given to unvaccinated people at high risk of severe COVID within five days of the onset of symptoms.

If the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorises the drug, which could happen within days, then patients might begin receiving it by the end of the year, The New York Times reports.

“This is quite amazing and potentially transformative,” said Dr Sara Cherry, a virologist at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “If we could keep people out of hospitals, that would have a huge impact on healthcare.”

Read: Is your health fund giving you enough of a COVID refund?

It’s feared that Omicron’s frightening transmissibility will create a surge of severe infections, particularly in unvaccinated people, and that those seriously ill people could swamp hospitals.

Pfizer says in its analysis that 0.7 per cent of patients who received Paxlovid were hospitalised within 28 days of entering the trial, and none died, while 6.5 per cent of patients who received a placebo were hospitalised or had died.

The US government has ordered enough of Pfizer’s pills to cover 10 million people.

Are the latest COVID outbreaks wreaking havoc with your Christmas plans? Are you choosing to limit or abandon gatherings? Have you been able to book or receive a booster shot? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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