The nation’s top vaccine authority is still considering whether the wider population will need a COVID booster dose – or possibly more than one.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has stopped short of recommending booster shots for the wider population, saying it needs more data, but acknowledges older Australians and those most at risk of serious disease will likely need a third jab.
The news for older people is confirmation of previous studies in Israel and the US that show COVID vaccine effectiveness can drop more quickly in those aged 60 and over than in younger age groups.
Getting the nation to the 80 per cent double-dose vaccination target must remain the priority before widespread booster doses can be considered, ATAGI says in a statement.
With New South Wales announcing the details of its plan to fully exit lockdown by December, and Victoria laying out a similar (but more cautious) roadmap, the end is in sight for more than half of Australia’s population.
But regaining freedoms in the nation’s two most populous states depends on getting double-dose vaccination rates up. Once the 80 per cent double-dose threshold has been reached, life can begin to return to normal, according to the National Plan for COVID response.
ATAGI says reaching this goal by getting as many first and second doses into people’s arms is still the priority but acknowledges high-risk groups such as the elderly and the immunocompromised will most likely need top-up jabs.
The group also notes, however, that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not yet received any applications from pharmaceutical companies for approval to administer follow-up booster shots.
ATAGI says it needs to wait on more real-world data before making the call on booster shots.
“ATAGI is closely monitoring local and international data about the frequency and severity of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated individuals,” ATAGI says.
“ATAGI is also reviewing the international data on the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of additional doses for specific high-risk patient populations, including immunocompromised individuals, and the population more generally.
“These data will inform future strategies regarding additional vaccine doses.”
Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reversed approval granted by the Biden administration to Pfizer to begin administering vaccine booster shots on a mass scale. Instead, the board recommended only that boosters be given to those aged 65 and over or at risk of serious disease.
Like ATAGI, the FDA cited a lack of data about the value of giving booster shots to the majority of the population.
ATAGI confirmed the delay on booster approval was not a matter of supply, but of evidence.
“ATAGI notes that current procurement arrangements between the Australian government and vaccine providers are sufficient to provide for first, second and additional doses as required over the next two to three years.”
Some experts believe that administering booster doses to large populations in wealthy countries while those in poorer countries struggle with low vaccination rates is unconscionable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the boosters won’t provide the protection rich countries are looking for if COVID is still circulating and mutating in lower income countries.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant,” says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using more of it.”
Do you think the government should approve COVID booster shots? Are you worried about losing protection from COVID if it doesn’t? Let us know in the comments section below.
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