Minister urges aged care booster rate rise

·3-min read

Health Minister Mark Butler has sought urgent advice on ways to boost the uptake of fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in aged-care facilities amid a rising number of deaths in the sector.

As the federal government indicated a vaccine for children aged between six months and five-years-old was being considered for approval in Australia, Mr Butler said it was critical for booster rates to increase during winter.

He said just over 50 per cent of aged care residents had got their fourth vaccine dose, or second booster, since it was made available.

"There are hundreds of facilities that today have outbreaks. There are many, many hundreds of cases among aged care residents," he told Sky News on Tuesday.

"We're seeing dozens of aged care deaths every week, so that simply isn't good enough."

Currently, a fourth dose is only available for those 65 and older, along with those in aged or disability care, Indigenous people over 50, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

Mr Butler said he was seeking advice on what the federal government could do to increase second booster rates, particularly in aged care.

"The aged care program has got to a very good place with that third dose, but we've got to do the next thing now, which is the fourth dose," he said.

"We've written to aged care facilities reminding them of the importance to put energy into this fourth dose program."

It comes as the Therapeutic Goods Administration is considering an application from drug maker Moderna to allow its vaccines to be given to children aged from six months to five-years-old.

Mr Butler said while the vaccine had been approved by US regulators, it would still take some time for similar approvals in Australia.

"It'll probably be a few weeks fore the TGA to go through their processes, you'll then go to the advisory committee on vaccines," he said.

"We're seeing much lower rates of vaccinations for COVID among the five to 11-year-olds than we saw for 12 to 15-year-olds."

The health minister said a decision on vaccinations for young children would be up to parents.

Mr Butler said he also wanted to see parents get their young children vaccinated for influenza, amid rising flu cases across the country, with vaccination rates down based on pre-pandemic levels.

Australians will have access to a single vaccine for COVID-19 and influenza by 2024 as clinical trials are set to begin.

The combined shot for flu, COVID-19 and respiratory virus RSV was in the early testing stages, with trials to start later this year, Moderna chief medical officer Paul Burton said.

Dr Burton expects combined vaccines will be key to fighting respiratory diseases in the aftermath of the pandemic, and to adapting to multiple strains within one season.

He said bringing vaccines together and adapting would be the future as the world considered diseases other than COVID-19.

LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:

NSW: 7805 cases, seven deaths, 1499 in hospital with 57 in ICU

Victoria: 7507 cases, 28 deaths, 434 in hospital with 21 in ICU

Queensland: 4797 cases, four deaths, 491 in hospital with seven in ICU

NT: 232 cases, no deaths, 17 in hospital with none in ICU

Tasmania: 1001 cases, no deaths, 41 in hospital with two in ICU

WA: 4885 cases, six deaths, 259 in hospital with eight in ICU

SA: 2270 cases, 11 deaths, 230 in hospital with nine in ICU

ACT: 869 cases, three deaths, 87 in hospital with one in ICU

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