Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Australia’s medical regulator looks at new data from Pfizer on covid-19 booster doses on Monday, with health authorities hoping for a rollout in November.

Residents and elderly care staff would be first in line for another dose of a COVID-19 vaccine along with health workers and frontier workers and quarantine workers.

While some other countries are already rolling out booster doses to their older and more vulnerable populations, the shots are not yet approved in Australia.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has considered an application from Pfizer to use its existing vaccine as a booster.

It is expected that the additional vaccine will be offered approximately six months after a person receives their second dose.

But the exact timing and form of the rollout will be informed by advice from the government’s vaccine advisory body, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI).

Health authorities tell those who were vaccinated at the earliest to expect boosters – but do not worry about losing immunity.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said the purpose of boosters really is to curb the virus.

“At present, there is little evidence that protection against serious illness decreases over time in those who are double-vaccinated,” he said.

“But what we do know is that antibody levels fall over time and there is a risk of breakthrough infections where vaccinated people can become infected and risk transmitting COVID-19 to others.”

Third doses of COVID-19 vaccines are already being offered to severely immunocompromised Australians.

However, authorities say these doses are not strictly boosters – as they aim to raise the level of protection in these people to the same level as others who require only two doses.

Roll-out to mirror the original vaccine timeline

The rollout of booster doses is expected to follow a similar timeline as the first rollout of the vaccine earlier this year.

Professor Kidd said the first to receive boosters will be those in geriatric care and those in high-risk occupations.

“Which includes the residents and staff of nursing homes and disabled facilities in housing, health professionals and those working in border and quarantine facilities.”

Professor Michael Kidd
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said the purpose of boosters was to curb the virus.

They are expected to be made available to the wider population before the end of the year.

Given the expected advice to seek a booster six months after a second dose, the uptake of boosters will follow a roughly similar trajectory as the first rollout.

The federal government insists that although supply limited the initial rollout, more than enough booster doses have been secured.

85 million Pfizer doses have been purchased for use during 2022 and 2023 along with 15 million doses of Moderna and 51 million Novavax doses — which had been intended for use as the first and second doses.

Experts urge to focus on the first and second dose

Some medical experts urge the federal government not to lose focus on the ongoing initial rollout of the vaccine.

The first doses have been given to 86.4 percent of those 16 years and older, and 72.5 percent are fully vaccinated.

Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia have all not yet reached 80 per cent on the first dose and 70 per cent on the second dose.

Dr. Paul Griffin of the University of Queensland said there are still many millions more first and second doses to be administered before boosters are a priority.

“Although some states have performed amazingly well, and when the initial dose rates are just right, there are still a number of parts of the country that have not yet achieved the same success.”

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