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The federal government has confirmed it is waiting for final approval to launch a third round of vaccinations in the second week of November, with a critical meeting to be held next Monday regarding the Pfizer vaccine.
“We are ready to commence and make sure that additional protection is provided,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters on Wednesday.
The manufacturers of Moderna and AstraZeneca are yet to submit a final application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for assessment.
Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly added data from Israel proves booster shots are safe and effective for all age groups.
“The booster gives you a boost in your protection and certainty,” he said.
It’s speculated there will be an eight-month gap between jabs, meaning the majority of Australians won’t be eligible until next year.
“All of the booster programs around the world have picked a time after the second dose of the vaccine, that has varied in some countries, so we will see what the advice is from ATAGI,” Dr Kelly said.
Rollout must happen ‘at pace’
It comes amid warnings from medical experts about declining protection for those who received the vaccine early in the year.
"The vaccine status of those healthcare workers in particular who have had those two booster doses, their protection against COVID-19 is waning," Australian Medical Association Victorian president Roderick McRae said.
"They should be looking after healthcare workers to ensure that they're as protected as they possibly can be as they have made the decision to open up the community."
The ABC's medical commentator Dr Norman Swan made a similar plea, telling News Breakfast those in residential aged care, airport workers, healthcare workers and hotel quarantine workers who were vaccinated in March and April need their third dose now.
“It needs to happen at pace I would have thought because you’re going to have outbreaks in residential aged care, more families being denied seeing their loved ones until you get that campaign going,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Dr Swan said they should be considered three-dose vaccines, such as Hepatitis B.
Two jabs remains ‘priority’
The Australian Medical Association Vice-President Chris Moy told Yahoo News while the issue of boosters is “pressing” it shouldn’t be the “priority”.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that a large section of the population is still unvaccinated,” he said.
“The priority must remain getting the first two shots, vaccinating children between 6 and 11 at some stage and giving third doses to those who are immunosuppressed first. That is more important”
He said the discussion around boosters shouldn’t undermine confidence in the benefits of having the first two shots.
Huge vaccine milestone
Australia is on track to become one of the most vaccinated countries in the world after hitting a huge milestone on Wednesday.
Mr Hunt announced 70 per cent of the eligible population was now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with first dose rates sitting at 85.5 per cent.
“This is a testament to the work of Australians and it is a testament to our health professionals and everybody that has been involved in the vaccination program so to Australians, I want to say thank you and congratulations, but keep going,” he said.
Boosted protection for vulnerable Australians
Several thousand Australians have already had their booster shots following the announcement of a third-dose program for people who are immunocompromised earlier this month.
“Australians who are severely immunocompromised may have a decreased immune response to a Covid-19 vaccination and be more at risk from severe Covid-19,” he said.
“An additional booster dose for this specific cohort will ensure they continue to be protected.”
It’s estimated up to 500,000 people with severely weakened immune systems may need an extra dose in the recommended interval of two to six months after their second jab.
Ample booster supply
Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed in early October mRNA vaccines have been recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) for additional protection against the coronavirus.
Australia has ample supply of mRNA vaccines for boosters after purchasing 25 million doses of Moderna, including 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine.
This is in addition to a further 60 million Pfizer doses being delivered in 2022 and 25 million doses for 2023.
The Government also has an Advance Purchased Agreement with Novavax for 51 million doses, which the Department of Health told Yahoo News in September “could be used as a booster dose”.
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