When are Covid booster shots needed? Here's everything you need to know

The NSW Premier has likened Covid-19 boosters to the flu shot, confirming that extra doses will be needed annually as the state prepares to live with the wildly infectious Delta strain.

Gladys Berejiklian offered a glimpse into National Cabinet discussions around vaccine boosters, after announcing 1,431 new Covid infections and 12 deaths on Friday.

“It will get to a point where we need a third booster shot or something like that, but it will wear off. At the moment we have these targets but are you concerned about what it's going to look like?” asked a reporter.

“Without breaching competence in the National Cabinet, the Federal Cabinet has ample supply of booster shots,” Ms Berejiklian responded.

“I don't want people to think I am being flippant, but once you get to living with Delta we will be treating this like the flu — it's a horrible disease, much more contagious and deadly than a flu — but every year we get a flu shot,” she confirmed for the first time.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney. Source: AAP
Gladys Berejiklian has shed some light on what Australia’s Covid booster program will look like amid concerns about how long vaccine protection lasts. Source: AAP

Ms Berejiklian said annual boosters, along with QR code check-ins and vaccine passports, will become a normal part of life.

“Once a year we are all going to have to go and get our shot but it will be a normalised process, and most people get it through a workplace or GP much in the same way you get the flu shot.”

How long do the Covid vaccines last?

The debate around boosters is ramping up amid concerns about how long vaccine protection lasts with a growing number of ‘breakthrough cases’ among fully-vaccinated people overseas.

There’s no simple answer to this question as the research is ongoing. But this is what early results are suggesting:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty): Studies suggested immunity will last at least 6 months

  • Oxford-AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria): Trials are still underway but data suggests that efficacy declines by about 10 percent 90 days after the second dose

  • Moderna (mRNA-1273): Studies have suggested immunity will likely last at least 6 months

  • Novavax: A statement from August 2021 from Novavax said that a booster shot given 6 months after the second dose, provided immunity more than four times stronger than immunity after the first two doses

(left) Vial of AstraZeneca (right) Covid vaccine being administered. Source: Getty Images
The Federal Government has no official booster policy but is monitoring research on the need for third doses. Source: Getty Images.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told Yahoo News the Government is actively monitoring the evidence on the need for booster vaccination.

“Australia is well prepared for booster vaccines if they are required,” the statement read.

What does the research about booster shots say?

Israel began rolling out boosters in mid-July, with preliminary data showing a third shot of Pfizer provided added protection against the Delta variant.

The Maccabi Healthcare Services research, which was released this week ahead of peer-review and publication, found people who received the supplemental dose had a 48 to 68 per cent lower risk of infection a week to 13 days later, compared to those who got the standard two-dose regimen.

What countries are already rolling out booster shots?

The World Health Organisation has called for a two-month moratorium on administering third shots to help reduce global vaccine inequality.

Despite this, many countries are pushing ahead with booster programs.

The US will begin rolling out boosters in a matter of weeks, with shots set to be offered to people eight months after their second dose.

The UK will also kick off its booster scheme next month, targeting vulnerable communities first.

Focus on syringe, close up of doctor or nurse hands taking covid vaccination booster shot or 3rd dose from syringe. Source: Getty Images
The US and UK are pushing ahead with booster schemes as 'breakthrough cases' rise among fully-vaccinated people. from Source: Getty Images

What will Australia’s booster program look like?

Australia has bought 25 million doses of Moderna, including 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine.

The Government also has an Advance Purchased Agreement with Novavax for 51 million doses, which the Department of Health told Yahoo News “could be used as a booster dose”.

This is in addition to 40 million Pfizer doses being delivered in 2021, 60 million in 2022 and 25 million doses for 2023.

There is little detail about what Australia’s booster plan will look like but health minister Greg Hunt has previously suggested third shots would be offered 12 months after initial vaccination.

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