Australia’s medical regulator will look at new data from Pfizer on COVID-19 booster doses on Monday, with health authorities hopeful of a November rollout.
- The TGA is considering an application from Pfizer to use its vaccine as a booster
- Health authorities are telling those vaccinated early not to be worried about losing immunity
- Professor Kidd said the purpose of the boosters would be to slow down the virus
Residents and staff in aged care would be first in line for another dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, along with healthcare workers and border and quarantine workers.
While some other countries are already rolling out booster doses to their older and more vulnerable populations, the shots are yet to be approved in Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has been considering an application from Pfizer to use its existing vaccine as a booster.
It is expected the additional vaccine would be offered roughly six months after a person receives their second dose.
But the exact timing and shape of the rollout will be informed by advice from the government’s vaccine advisory body, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
Health authorities are telling those who were vaccinated earliest to expect boosters — but not to be concerned they are losing immunity.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said the purpose of boosters is really to slow the virus down.
“There is little evidence at this time that protection against severe disease wanes over time in those who are double vaccinated,” he said.
“But what we do know is that antibody levels fall over time and there is a risk of breakthrough infections where vaccinated people may become infected and at risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others.”
Third doses of COVID-19 vaccines are already being offered to severely immunocompromised Australians.
But authorities say those doses are not strictly boosters — as they are aimed at lifting the level of protection in those people, up to the same level as others who only require two doses.
Rollout to mirror initial vaccine timeline
The rollout of booster doses is expected to follow a similar timeline to the initial vaccine rollout earlier this year.
Professor Kidd said the first to receive boosters will be those in aged care, and those in high-risk occupations.
“Which includes the residents and staff of residential aged care facilities and disability care facilities, health care workers and those working in border and quarantine facilities.”
They are expected to be made available to the broader population before the end of the year.
Given the expected advice to seek out a booster six months on from a second dose, the take-up of boosters will follow a roughly similar trajectory to the initial rollout.
The federal government insists that while supply constrained the initial rollout, more than enough booster doses have been secured.
Eighty-five million Pfizer doses have been bought for use over 2022 and 2023, along with 15 million Moderna doses, and 51 million Novavax doses — which had been intended for use as first and second doses.
Experts urge focus on first and second doses
Some medical experts are urging the federal government not to lose focus on the ongoing initial rollout of the vaccine.
First doses have been administered to 86.4 per cent of those aged 16 and over, and 72.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are all yet to reach 80 per cent on first doses, and 70 per cent on second doses.
Dr Paul Griffin, from the University of Queensland, said there are still many millions more first and second doses to administer before boosters are a priority.
“While certain states have done tremendously well, getting those first dose rates right up, there’s still a number of parts of the country that yet to achieve that same success.”