Government urges key groups to get a fourth COVID booster

With winter approaching, and a surge in COVID cases in most states and territories, the federal government is recommending a second booster shot for several sectors of the community.

They include people aged 65 or older, residents of aged care or disability care centres, people aged 16 years or older with severe immunocompromise and Aboriginal and Torres Street Islander people aged 50 or older.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) says the booster can be given from four months or longer after the first booster dose or from four months after a confirmed COVID infection if infected after the first booster dose.

It says the strongest risk factor for severe COVID is older age.

Read: COVID and flu together more than doubles the death risk

“Benefits from a second booster dose are supported by data from Israel, which suggests that in higher risk people – aged 60 or older – an additional booster dose of Pfizer vaccine at four months after a first booster resulted in a two-fold lower rate of infection and a 4.3-fold lower rate of severe illness,” ATAGI said in a statement.

“Some degree of immunity is to be expected after infection, although level and duration of this in the context of Omicron infection and protection against future variants is unknown.”

ATAGI does not currently advise an additional booster dose for healthy people who are not in one of the recommended groups, however it says it will continue to monitor scientific data as it becomes available.

Colds and viruses thrive in winter due to several factors.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, colds and viruses are more common in colder months as people are indoors more often with less-than-ideal ventilation and heating systems that make indoor air drier. That helps viruses to pass more easily from one person to another.

Also, cold weather slows down the body’s ability to clear mucus from nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to enter the body through the mouth and nose.

Read: Why do some people not catch COVID despite exposure

Murdoch University immunology professor Cassandra Berry believes annual COVID boosters are inevitable.

She hopes Australia will consider intranasal boosters as a vaccine option.

“If you spray it up your nose, then you’re actually protecting that mucosal surface, where the virus is going to invade,” she told The New Daily. “So you would have your immunity right there at the battleground, waiting for the enemy to come in.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Professor Karen Price said Australia must remain vigilant.

“We has been protected because Australians have heeded the call and gotten vaccinated,” she said.

“It hasn’t been by accident that Australia has been largely spared the terrible situations we have seen overseas.”

ATAGI says the booster program will begin this month to coincide with the annual flu booster program.

Read: Still coughing after COVID? Here’s what to do about it

It also recommends the age of 65 for the booster dose as it aligns with eligibility to receive the flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program.

COVID vaccines and the influenza vaccine can be administered on the same day, however if you are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine booster, ATAGI recommends going ahead just with the flu shot.

Pfizer and Moderna are the preferred vaccine booster doses, but AstraZeneca can be given when an mRNA vaccine is contraindicated, or a person declines an mRNA vaccine.

There were an estimated 500,000 active cases of COVID in Australia as of 6 April 2022 with a total of 4.5 million cases since the pandemic began. There have been 6435 deaths.

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Written by Jan Fisher