Aussies could require 'immunity tests' as date for booster shots confirmed

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Covid-19 booster shots will be made available to Australians six months after their first two doses in a bid to maximise protection against the deadly virus.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced on Wednesday it has provisionally approved a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine to people over 18 following “careful evaluation of the available data supporting safety and efficacy”.

In a statement, the TGA confirmed the boosters could be used in conjunction with any of the Covid-19 vaccines registered for use in Australia.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP
The federal government hopes to roll out booster shots next month after the Therapeutic Goods Administration gave provisional approval for a Pfizer top-up dose. Source: AAP

Health minister Greg Hunt said it means Australia will be one of the most “highly vaccinated societies in the world”.

“One of the most recently vaccinated communities in the world. And one of the first to receive a whole population booster program,” he declared to reporters.

But boosters aren’t available just yet — the federal government still has to wait for further advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Subject to that advice, Mr Hunt is “quietly hopeful” of launching the booster program on November 8, with 1.6 million people expected to be due for their booster shots by January.

Focus on syringe, close up of doctor or nurse hands taking covid vaccination booster shot or 3rd dose from syringe. Source: Getty Images
Aged care residents are expected to be the first people to receive a coronavirus vaccine booster shot after the medical regulator gave the green light. Source: Getty Images

He said Australia has the “supplies and distribution mechanism” for the rollout, which will prioritise the aged care and disability sectors. 

Pfizer boosters will be available at doctor surgeries, participating pharmacies and vaccination clinics.

Will the definition of ‘fully vaccinated' change?

Mr Hunt told reporters booster shots will not be mandated but they will be recorded on the immunisation register.

“You are fully vaccinated at this point,” he said.

“But the booster… it adds to protection.”

But Professor Brendan Crabb, Burnet Institute CEO, told Yahoo News it’s only a matter of time until the definition of “fully vaccinated” is changed.

“All I can say is that I would not be at all surprised for three doses of many of the current Covid vaccines to one day be considered a standard regimen,” he said.

New immunity tests could play a part

Professor Crabb added that immunity tests, which are currently being developed, could also potentially determine whether someone needs a top-up shot.

“Two shots might be enough for some people, whereas others may need three or even four shots to be sufficiently protected. But for now, yes, I think three shots will become standard.”

The Burnett Institute is working with the Doherty Institute on developing a new finger prick test to rapidly determine a person’s immunity to Covid-19 with funding support from the Victorian government.

Syringes containing Pfizer vaccine are prepared at a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Midland, an eastern suburb of Perth, Thursday, September 9, 2021. Source: AAP
A new immunity test could be used to determine whether a person may need a booster shot by analysing their current level of immunity to the virus. Source: AAP

The test, which is still at the prototype stage, takes less than 20 minutes to accurately measure the level of neutralising antibodies and show the level of immunity in an individual.

The new technology could also be used to predict someone’s immunity to new and emerging variants.

“Other rapid tests don’t measure the important ‘neutralising antibodies’ that block virus infection. This is the advantage of the COVID-19 NAb-Test and what makes it a valuable addition to our COVID-19 diagnostic toolkit,” Professor Dale Godfrey from Immunology at the Doherty Institute said.

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