Booster shots for aged care residents from next month as Australia hits 70 per cent full COVID vaccination

Health Minister Greg Hunt says aged care residents will be prioritised in the booster rollout. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Health Minister Greg Hunt says aged care residents will be prioritised in the booster rollout. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Aged care residents will likely receive booster shots as early as next month, with the broader population to have access to a third jab in the coming months.

Third vaccine doses have been offered to immunocompromised Australians since October, but will be made made widely available in the lead-up to Christmas if given the green light by medical authorities.

The revelation came as Australia edged past 70 per cent full-vaccination of its 16 and over population, a key milestone in its path out of the pandemic.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said aged care residents would be prioritised in the booster rollout, which he expected to begin in November. But with ample vaccine supply in all jurisdictions, he said there would be no need to stagger the rollout by age group.

"We are ready to commence and make sure that additional protection is provided," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"We have the supply, we have the mechanism. The last part is the medical advice and approval."

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Mr Hunt revealed Pfizer was in the "absolute late stages" of its application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with key talks to be held on Monday.

"We're looking to commence the aged care program in the second week. But there wouldn't be any barrier, once there was product approval, for any aged care facility or state to commence before that time," he said.

Moderna was expected to submit its data for consideration in the current months. But Mr Hunt said AstraZeneca, subject of ATAGI advice warning against its use in under-60s without doctor consultation, had not been factored in as a booster for the broader population.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly played down the prospect of the booster rollout being completed this year, with a time period between second and third doses yet to be established.

Immunocompromised Australians have received booster shots under a 'mix and match' system, allowing them access to different type of vaccine to what they originally received. Advice was being sought from ATAGI over whether that system for the rest of the population.

"If I was a betting person, which I'm not, it would be likely be along those lines," Professor Kelly said.

Israeli data shows boosters are safe and effective, the chief medical officer says. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Israeli data shows boosters are safe and effective, the chief medical officer says. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Israel has been administering booster shots since August, including to children as young as 12, and Professor Kelly said the results were reassuring.

"This is safe, it is effective in all age groups for both decreasing infection, as well as severe disease and for the older age groups, death," he said.

"That is absolutely proven now from the Israeli data."

Mr Hunt would not speculate on whether boosters would be folded into vaccination certificates, but stressed their availability would have no baring on the definition of full-vaccination.

"Two doses is fully vaccinated. A booster is a booster," he said.

International aid organisations have called international coverage to be prioritised over booster shots, in a bid to prevent the virus mutating in countries with low vaccination levels.

The UK was closely watching an offshoot of the Delta variant - dubbed 'Delta Plus' - which was yet to be added to the World Health Organisation's listed of variants under monitoring.

Professor Kelly said Australia was "vigilant" to development overseas, but moved to head off concern.

"Just to be clear: this is not a new variant, it's not a variant of concern, it is not a variant even of interest," he said.

'Some patchiness'

Australia has edged past 70 per cent full vaccination in its 16-and-over age range, a major step in the country's reopening plan.

Phase B of the national roadmap was triggered once the national average, along with the average in individual states and territories, reached the threshold.

The development will see restrictions eased for vaccinated residents, lockdowns becoming less likely, and international travel caps lifted.

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Mr Hunt described the milestone as a "testament" to the health professionals involved, but warned vaccination remained inconsistent across the states.

"There is some patchiness, to be honest," he said.

"In some of the other states and territories, [the] number is significantly lower. So there's potential to lift."

A major source of inconsistency was the 12-to-15 age range not included in the national reopening targets. Vaccination among the cohort has exploded in the ACT, but lagged behind in Western Australia and Queensland.

Mr Hunt singled out Canberrans for particular praise.

"I think it's important to acknowledge what has happened here. [The ACT] is one of the most highly-vaccinated societies in the world," he said.

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This story Booster shots from next month as Australia passes vaccine milestone first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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