News Coronavirus Go-ahead for COVID boosters for teenagers

Go-ahead for COVID boosters for teenagers

booster shots teenagers
With schools closed, shots for tetanus and other routine inoculations were missed. Photo: Getty
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Some 370,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 have become eligible for their third COVID-19 jab.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the booster would better protect against the Omicron variant as Australia still added tens of thousands of cases each day alongside dozens of deaths.

Australia’s primary vaccine advisory body, ATAGI, has recommended the third jab for the those aged over 16, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the Pfizer booster for the younger cohort on January 28.

The body is also considering raising the definition of fully vaccinated to three doses.

“I think it is more likely than not. That’s my expectation,” Mr Hunt told the Nine Network.

“[But] we want everybody to be boosted in any event.”

Mr Hunt has also written to Pfizer to encourage it to go through the process of making booster shots available to younger teens. A full application is yet to be lodged with Australian regulatory health bodies.

“We are encouraging them to bring that forward … at the earliest possible opportunity,” Mr Hunt told the ABC.

The changes came as chief medical officer Paul Kelly said Australia had passed the peak of Omicron infections. But he warned another wave, alongside a flu wave, was expected in winter.

“I do believe that we will have another wave of Omicron in winter,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.

“I think we will have a flu wave in winter for the first time … since the beginning of 2020.”

Professor Kelly stressed the death rate from Omicron was 0.1 per cent as the federal government faced intense scrutiny over high numbers of deaths in aged care.

“Because of the better clinical care and the surge capacity we are putting into the sector, because of our very skilled health staff working at the frontline, because of all of those things, we have a spectacularly low rate of death,” he said.

“That is not to discount the fact that we’ve had a large number of deaths.”

Victoria reported another 34 COVID-related deaths and 12,157 cases on Thursday, while there were 12,632 coronavirus cases and 38 deaths in NSW. Queensland had nine deaths and 8643 more infections, and there were 529 new cases in the ACT without another fatality.

Tasmania had another death and 656 more cases.

Elsewhere, Australia has surpassed 8.4 million booster shots, or just under 70 per cent of those eligible, administering over 200,000 third doses a day.

But a third of people in aged care are yet to receive their boosters despite vaccination teams visiting 99 per cent of all aged care facilities to offer the third dose.

It remains unknown how many of the almost 500 aged care residents who have died with COVID-19 this year had received a booster.

Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck was unable to answer at a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, while Mr Hunt said the data was held by the states and yet to be passed to the Commonwealth.

The head of the country’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, said teams would make second visits of facilities to vaccinate more aged care residents.

Senator Colbeck tried to play down claims of the aged care sector being in crisis, despite acknowledging the extreme stress and pressure staff and facilities areunder.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said there was a mismatch between what the federal government promised it would do and what was delivered on the ground, further affecting the sector.

“What we’ve seen throughout is promised support from the Commonwealth just hasn’t been available,” she told the ABC.

“[They] weren’t able to come to the party to provide that additional staffing they had initially indicated they would do.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said the Commonwealth ignoring system issues – such as wages in the sector – and instead choosing two $400 bonus payments, showed it wasn’t taking the situation seriously.

“COVID-19 represents a crisis but more broadly, there is a significant challenge right across the aged care sector in its sustainability and its capacity to particularly care for those most complex aged care patients,” she said.

“The aged care services just aren’t funded to support those people who have really high and complex needs.”