Despite advice to the contrary from other leaders in his field, an infectious disease expert says Covid booster shots should not be rushed.
Professor Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University, told Channel 7’s Sunrise on Tuesday morning the “fear” of the new Omicron strain was “out of proportion to the facts”.
“Yes, it is a new variant and yes it appears to spread more readily, but it does not cause more severe disease in either the vaccinated or unvaccinated,” he said.
“In fact, if anything, probably a bit less, although we still can't be confident of that. But if you look at South Africa in particular, it caused less severe disease and death than the other variants, and Delta in particular.
“The hospitals in South Africa, Denmark, England and even here are not full of people who are vaccinated. So vaccines work, including two doses.”
Prof Collignon said while people did receive more protection from a third dose, the decision by the Australian government to offer booster vaccines at five months after the second dose should not be brought forward again.
“You don't want to rush it because we’ve learnt from our original vaccine and from other vaccines such as Hepatitis B, if you delay the second and third dose, you get longer protection than if you shorten those doses,” he said.
“So we’ve got to be careful we don't over rush this without data and panic rather than looking at the data as it unfolds because short-term gain might be long-term pain.”
The professor of microbiology said he did believe everyone would need to have a third shot to protect themselves from Covid and future strains.
“But we need to take it slowly. Omicron has not turned out like everybody was predicting a month or six weeks ago. It is very similar to Delta, other than it spreads more but if you are vaccinated, you are protected,” he said.
'Masks decrease risk by 10 or 15 per cent'
While other experts have called for restrictions like mask-wearing and limits on indoor venues to be reintroduced in NSW just one week after they were rolled back, Prof Collignon told Sunrise the move wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“Masks give you some protection — they probably decrease your risk by about 10 per cent or 15 per cent — but look at the places where most spread is occurring, it’s bars, pubs, crowds,” he said.
“Crowded indoor venues where, because they are eating or drinking, they won’t have masks on anyway.
“So I think there will be less impact from masks than what people generally think. A bigger impact is to spend time outdoors, that decreases your risk probably about 90 or 95 per cent of getting a mild infection.”
Prof Collignon said the biggest thing that made a difference in the number of cases was vaccination.
“What we’re seeing around the world is deaths and hospitalisations are being decoupled from case numbers. Yes, we are seeing surges in cases, but if you are vaccinated your chance of landing in hospital or dying is very, very low,” he said.
NSW announces record Covid-19 infections
NSW recorded 3,057 new infections on Tuesday in the 24-hour reporting period to 8pm on Monday.
There were also 1,245 new cases in Victoria, creating a daily national record for the pandemic of 4,302 cases so far on Tuesday with other states and territories' numbers still to come.
In NSW, there are 284 Covid-19 patients in hospital, up from 261, and 39 people are in ICU — up from 33. Of those, 26 are reported to be unvaccinated.
“The vast body of people in the ICU and hospital are those who are not vaccinated, not with a third dose, but with zero doses,” Prof Collignon said.
“So that’s the people we need to convince a get vaccinated because they are the biggest pressure on our hospitals and ICU.”
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