More than a million Australians have become eligible to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, following the latest advice from the country’s chief immunisation group.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has expanded the eligibility for the winter booster dose to include people with health conditions or a disability, following their latest meeting.
The expanded advice is expected to allow more than 1.5 million additional people to receive a fourth vaccine dose, or second booster.
So far, the fourth dose has been available only to those 65 and over, those in aged or disability care, severely immunocompromised people or Indigenous people aged over 50.
Interim Health Minister Katy Gallagher said it was critical as many people as possible got fourth COVID shots.
“The idea behind expanding the criteria really has been to ensure that people who are at greatest risk of severe infection … are protected,” she said in Canberra on Wednesday.
The advice comes ahead of a predicted surge in COVID cases across the country during winter, combined with rising flu cases.
While the eligibility has expanded for the second booster, a fourth dose has not yet been recommended for the whole population.
“The reason why it has not been expanded more across the general population is based on evidence,” Senator Gallagher said.
“We have accepted the ATAGI advice in full, but the benefits of having a fourth dose for everybody are not ATAGI’s view at the moment.
“It is just that category of people who have underlying health conditions and people who have a disability.”
- See all the details of the expanded eligibility here
The announcement came as COVID cases, and fatalities, remained high across Australia – with more than 46,000 infections and another 41 deaths confirmed on Wednesday.
Australia has one of the world’s highest per capita rated of COVID-19 infections among comparable countries, but pathologists fear they haven’t got the full picture because some people are not reporting rapid test results.
Microbiologist and infectious diseases physician Caitlin Keighley said this week that without accurate data on infections, there was no way of knowing the true number of positive infections in the community.
Without that data it is difficult to plan public health responses and assess the impact of treatments and vaccines.
“I suspect patients aren’t self-reporting because they don’t realise the importance for public health and potential treatment. Most are probably still self-isolating,” Dr Keighley said.
Senator Gallagher said despite the boosters not being made available to the wider public, there were no supply issues for COVID vaccine doses.
“We would encourage anyone who hasn’t had their booster dose or who may be eligible for this fourth dose to make arrangements to get that dose,” she said.
The incoming health minister will receive a full briefing on COVID next week.
Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data
NSW: 8970 cases, 11 deaths, 1209 in hospital with 35 in ICU
Victoria: 13,023 cases, 17 deaths, 567 in hospital with 37 in ICU
Queensland: 5584 cases, 10 deaths, 426 in hospital with 15 in ICU
Tasmania: 899 cases, no deaths, 51 in hospital with two in ICU
Western Australia: 12,419 cases, two deaths, 301 in hospital with seven in ICU
Northern Territory: 298 cases, no deaths, 11 in hospital with one in ICU
South Australia: 3975 cases, one death, 236 in hospital with 10 in ICU
ACT: 934 cases, no deaths, 88 in hospital with one in ICU