As COVID case numbers continue to surge across Australia, global evidence shows vaccination is the best protection against infection and hospitalisation, but there are mixed messages on whether a fourth dose is recommended.
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says a third (booster) shot is providing 90 per cent protection against severe disease in those aged 65 and over.
The approach to a fourth vaccination is currently variable across nations. In Israel, a fourth dose is being offered to people aged over 60 and to healthcare workers.
But the JCVI states that a fourth jab is not yet needed, with current data showing the first booster dose continues to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even in older age groups.
Australia’s approach in the early stages of 2022 appears to be mirroring the UK’s, although the ACT government website advocates a fourth dose for severely immunocompromised individuals. It recommends that a fourth dose be administered three months after the third.
For the general population, there are no current plans to implement a strategy for a fourth dose. In an interview on Channel 9 on 4 January, the coordinator-general of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce, Lieutenant General John Frewen, said: “We’ll keep watching the science, and then we’ll be ready to respond to whatever the health advice is.”
While a second booster option is not being considered by the federal government, its advice surrounding a first booster is clear: get it as soon as possible.
In early December, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended a booster shot for anyone aged 18 and older who had completed their primary course of COVID vaccination five or more months ago. ATAGI has since revised that timeframe to four months.
Meanwhile, Italy has announced it will soon be mandatory for all those who are over 50 to be vaccinated. From 15 February, anyone who is over 50 and employed in the private or public sector will be obliged to provide a health certificate which demonstrates vaccination or recovery from COVID itself.
While figures indicate that the Omicron variant of COVID is spreading rapidly across the UK in the over-50 population, it is unlikely to lead to the introduction of any further restrictions because of the high booster uptake in that age group.
According to British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, 90 per cent of Britons aged over 50 have had their booster shot.
A National Cabinet statement released by the Australian Prime Minister’s Office last week revealed that more than 96.8 per cent of Australians over 50 are now fully vaccinated.
Older age remains a strong factor associated with morbidity and mortality from COVID. According to the federal Department of Health: “The risk of death from COVID-19 increases throughout each decade of age over 50 years.”
That risk increases to about two times as high for people aged 50 to 59, and more than 10 times as high for people aged 80 or older.
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