Fears over Covid super-spreader events as new vaccine approved: What you need to know

As a fresh Covid wave appears likely to sweep across the nation there are fears for the likes of Schoolies and big gatherings to become super-spreader events.

Fears over Covid super spreader events have led to renewed pleas for Aussies to get the latest vaccine booster as a new wave sweeps the country.

As teens travel far and wide for end-of-year festivities like Schoolies, it could lead to thousands being infected with a dreaded bout of the virus just as the Christmas holidays near. So what can we do to prevent it and should we be worried?

  • Experts are warning that Covid continues to pose a threat to Australians and that precautions should be taken to avoid infection.

  • A new vaccine will be available in Australia from December 11, with everyone being urged to get it. It will protect against the new EG.5 (Eris) and BA 2.86 (Pirola) variants.

  • Conversations about mask mandates have been reignited following WA’s decision to make masks compulsory in high-risk settings such as hospitals.

🤔 Should I be worried?

Virologists were adamant that Covid would evolve into "nothing more than the “common cold" but today that is simply not the case and continues to carry a threat, experts warn.

Professor Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Deakin University told Yahoo that while our “population-level immunity is helping us get through this wave in a safer way than we have [before]," we still have to remember that "people can become very unwell and we're still losing lives".

Dr Raina MacIntyre echoed this, saying there's an "enormous" amount of evidence around chronic long-term conditions caused by the virus.

"This is not just a virus that causes respiratory illness, it does that, but it also affects blood vessels, the heart, lungs and brain and a range of other organ systems," she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"There are also good studies that show if you are reinfected, your risk of long Covid increases. And we know long Covid is already impacting workforces in the US and the UK," she added.

Read more: Is Covid still a thing?

One of the most controversial issues at the height of the pandemic was mask-wearing. So will there be renewed efforts to encourage people to wear masks on the cusp of another outbreak this holiday season? WA has already brought back mandates for face masks in hospitals.

However, it's unlikely to affect the masses. Monash epidemiologist James Trauer said, "I don't think we need a mask mandate across the whole of society". Lockdowns are also unlikely Dr Paul Griffin, the director of infectious diseases at Mater Health in Brisbane, said. "But people should still remain careful," adds Trauer.

The advice is particularly true for those attending high-risk social events including Schoolies, or Leavers, with new fears such occasions may become superspreader events. While taking precautions is necessary, Trauer says, "I don't think we should have any restrictions that are applied across the whole of society" — such as banning these events. "And I don't think there's any need to limit gathering numbers" he added.

"But we do need to take precautions when visiting friends and relatives who are vulnerable. Don’t put them at risk," he added. This includes the elderly or people with other medical conditions.

Covid masks.
WA has introduced mask mandates in high-risk areas, including hospitals. Source: Getty

What's caused the new wave?

A "significant change in the virus" is what's caused the current wave. "Each time the virus changes, the protection that we have from past infection and vaccination declines and that allows the virus to transmit more readily," Griffin told Yahoo.

Bennett agreed and said a new wave was "expected". Mostly because protection from immunity or vaccination "wanes over time". As for vaccinations, only a "very small percentage" of the population is up to date and most people haven't had a shot in the past six months, according to Professor Adrian Esterman, an expert in epidemiology at the University of South Australia.

⏭️ So what next? Do I need another vaccine?

That's a question a lot of people are asking at the moment, and in short, “if people are eligible for a vaccine, I would just encourage them to go and get vaccinated," Trauer said.

The new vaccine, which will be available in Australia from December 11, differs from the ones we’ve had previously. It’s monovalent and designed specifically to target the current EG.5 (Eris) and BA 2.86 (Pirola) variants. The most recent boosters were bivalent and tailored to protect against both the original strain of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.

Those who had their 2023 vaccinations do not need to get jabbed again, but for people who are particularly vulnerable, if they haven't had their booster, "now is the time to think about it because it will give you your best protection through this second wave for the year," Bennett said.

"Vaccination remains our most important defence against Covid," Trauer added.

Other precautions that Esterman says are effective and encouraged include:

  • Mask wearing

  • Social distancing

  • If you're feeling unwell, especially if you've got any respiratory symptoms, stay at home

🗣️ What they said

WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson on Schoolies or Leavers, "We know large events are higher risk when it comes to contracting and spreading the virus. Anyone returning from Leavers who feels unwell should please stay away from their grandparents and other vulnerable people in our community until their symptoms resolve".

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) said in a recent statement, "Available data suggests monovalent XBB vaccines provide modestly enhanced protection from severe disease compared to older vaccines".

🗞️ For more about... Coronavirus

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