Green light for national booster program as aged care residents start getting shots

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The country’s expert vaccine group has okayed a national COVID-19 booster shot program, paving the way for Australians in high-risk groups who have been fully vaccinated for at least six months to get an additional dose from November 8.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said it was a “very important day” but reiterated boosters were just that – a boost – and people with two doses remained fully vaccinated and well protected against COVID-19.

Pfizer boosters will be available to people who have been fully vaccinated for at least six months from November 8.Credit:AP

Aged care residents have already started getting boosters in Victoria after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended them for high-priority groups including the elderly and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults.

ATAGI also recommended boosters for frontline workers at increased risk of catching the virus, including healthcare staff.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday aged care residents and people with disabilities would be the priority for the first boosters.

“We have enough vaccines in the country to vaccinate everybody who comes due and as your six months has passed, then you will be able to be eligible to come forward,” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved for use as a booster by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on Tuesday evening for people aged over 18. TGA boss John Skerritt stressed two doses still provided excellent protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and death.

“But we do know that boosters may give additional protection against mild COVID and they may have an impact on transmission,” he said on Wednesday. “And we do know that in the elderly and people of various shades of immunocompromised that an additional dose is particularly valuable, and it may provide reassurance for frontline health workers.”

ATAGI has held back on recommending Pfizer boosters for the broader adult population, promising a review of its recommendations in January.

“ATAGI notes that these groups considered most likely to benefit from booster doses include individuals first eligible during the initial rollout of vaccination in Australia,” the group said in a statement.

“This recommendation will be reviewed in January 2022, as groups other than the high-risk groups listed above will become eligible in larger numbers.”

The group said it would also make a recommendation on the potential use of Moderna’s vaccine “in due course”. On Wednesday, Mr Hunt said Moderna was yet to apply for its vaccine to be used as a booster.

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