This article was first published at 29 October, on ABC News website.
Australians will be offered COVID vaccine booster shots six months after receiving their second dose, after a final tick of approval from the country’s expert vaccine group.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations (ATAGI) already recommended that severely immunocompromised people receive a third dose of a vaccine, but had held off making a decision for the rest of the population.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced ATAGI had now recommended boosters be rolled out to adults.
While the booster program will officially start on November 8, Mr Hunt said some residents in aged and disability care would start receiving them as early as today.
“Early priority will be a focus on aged care and disability but by definition, we have enough vaccines in the country to vaccinate everybody,” he said.
Yesterday the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced it had approved Pfizer booster shots for people aged 18 and over, but said it was down to ATAGI to advise on who would be eligible.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly clarified that while boosters were encouraged for the elderly or others who may be considered vulnerable, the government considered people fully vaccinated as long as they had had their first two doses of the vaccine.
“This is a boost, two doses … will be seen as fully vaccinated for overseas travellers and so on,” he said.
“It definitely gives extra protection against severe disease, particularly for older Australians and those in that vulnerable group.
Professor Kelly said people in phase 1a and 1b of the original vaccine rollout would be the first to get to the six-month mark since their second dose, and urged them to come forward.
He also confirmed the government would not be setting targets for how many people they wanted to get boosters, or that it would be tied with restrictions easing.
Under changes to the international border closure, people who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to ask for permission to leave the country as of Monday, while those who are unvaccinated still have to apply for an exemption to travel.
Mr Hunt also reiterated that Pfizer would also now be available at pharmacies after previously only being available at GPs and state-run clinics.