Countries will have another safe vaccine option after the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave emergency approval to CovavaxTM, the ninth jab to get such authorisation.
The vaccine is made by US-based Novavax and the Serum Institute of India and is being eyed as a way to balance out distribution to poorer nations.
It was long anticipated to help increase global vaccine supplies as the shots require standard refrigeration as opposed to ultra-cold storage.
“This listing aims to increase access particularly in lower-income countries, 41 of which have still not been able to vaccinate 10 per cent of their populations while 98 countries have not reached 40 per cent,” said the WHO’s Dr Mariangela Simao.
Novavax was delayed for months because of problems lining up large-scale manufacturing.
It has been given emergency use authorisation in Indonesia and the Philippines, has applications pending with the European Medicines Agency and the UK and plans to file with the US Food and Drug Administration by year’s end.
Novavax says it currently is testing how the shots will hold up against Omicron and has begun formulating an updated version to better match the variant.
Confidence boost for boosters
UK researchers say a booster shot could provide around 85 per cent protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant which is sweeping the world.
They found that getting the top-up could help counter a significant drop in efficacy of the double dose and prevent people ending up in hospital, the BBC reports.
The analysis was undertaken by a team at the Imperial College London based on limited information on Omicron.
But even with a booster, vaccine protection against severe disease was not as high as the 97 per cent for Delta.
Meanwhile European Union governments will exercise an option to buy more than 180 million doses of a version of the Pfizer vaccine adapted for Omicron.
Is Omicron more transmissible? Does it cause more severe disease? What are the symptoms and how can you protect yourself? Dr @mvankerkhove explains in #ScienceIn5 this week ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/RKqmgqzYhf
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 17, 2021
It comes as Australia’s vaccine advisory body ATAGI opted not to bring forward the booster shot any earlier.
However NSW is reportedly considering cutting the wait period by another month to four months, The Guardian reports.
Currently Australians are eligible for their third shot after five months which is a month sooner than the initial advice.
The rapid rise of cases across the country, particularly in NSW, has prompted greater emphasis on the importance of booster shots, with some clinics having to turn people away due to the rush on third doses.
More than four million people will be eligible for boosters by the end of the year, with the number to rise to seven million in January and 11 million in February.
An extra 2.3 million people will be able to receive the vaccine from January when five- to 11-year-olds become eligible.
So far, more than one million Australians have received their booster shot.
However health officials have stressed there will be more than enough COVID-19 vaccines to meet demand.
Head of the country’s vaccine rollout Lieutenant-General John Frewen said “the amounts that we have available far exceed any demand right now”.
“(January) will start to see a bit more pressure come onto the system, the big demand when large numbers of people become eligible for boosters is into the February and March period.”
Changes for international arrivals NSW, Victoria
Despite the rise in cases due to the Omicron variant, states continue to ease restrictions.
NSW and Victoria will no longer require international arrivals to isolate for 72 hours upon arrival.
Fully vaccinated travellers will instead be required to get a test within 24 hours of arrival and isolate until they get a negative result.
The two states agreed to introduce consistent COVID-19 requirements from Tuesday, 21 December.
Under existing arrangements they are also required to produce a negative pre-departure test, within three days of boarding their flight.
Previously, all fully vaccinated international arrivals in both NSW and Victoria had to get a test as soon as possible and isolate for 72 hours regardless of when they received their negative test result.
NSW won’t reinstate restrictions: Perrottet
Premier Dominic Perrottet is urging “perspective” as he faces pressure to reintroduce COVID-19 restrictions amid record-high case numbers a week out from Christmas.
Mr Perrottet encouraged individual responsibility rather than reimpose restrictions like mandatory masks in retail settings.
He has stood by his government’s plan to ease restrictions on mask-wearing and check-ins on Wednesday, despite the escalation in cases.
“It is obviously going to be a challenging time. We accept that,” the premier told reporters on Friday.
“But we need perspective.
“Our number one focus is to keep people safe, to keep hospitalisations and ICU numbers down.”
Some 215 people were in hospital with the virus on Friday, a rise on 23 from the previous day.
Intensive care numbers have remained fairly steady for weeks, now at 24. Eight people are ventilated.
Deputy Premier Paul Toole on Friday said the government would keep an eye on the numbers and continue to look at advice.
Rules around masks will be a conversation the government will “continue to have in the coming days and weeks”.
But, he said, “we are sticking with our road map at this point in time”.