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The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended a winter booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

ATAGI recommends an additional booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to increase vaccine protection before winter for selected population groups at the most significant risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and who have received their primary vaccination and their first booster dose. These groups are:

  • Adults aged 65 years and older
  • Residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • People aged 16 years and older with severe immunocompromise (as defined in the  ATAGI statement on the use of a 3rd primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine in individuals who are severely immunocompromised)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older.

Update to eligibility

The incoming federal government has expanded access to fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to about 1.5 million extra Australians with health conditions including cancers, diabetes, and lung and liver disease ahead of winter.

People aged 16 and over with chronic cardiac, neurological, kidney, liver and lung disease, who are severely obese or underweight, or with other conditions that leave them immunocompromised will be able to access the fourth jab from May 30.

Diabetes requiring medication and all cancers are covered by the new eligibility criteria, which also extends to people with a disability who have significant or complex health needs, or multiple comorbidities that increase their risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19.

The change is based on the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), which met on Wednesday to discuss the latest international evidence on fourth doses. It follows the United States government’s move to allow everyone aged 50 and over to get a fourth jab.

The additional winter booster dose can be given from 4 months or longer after receiving their first booster dose or from 4 months after a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection if infection occurred since the person’s first COVID-19 booster dose.

When should you get it?

ATAGI recommends that the rollout of the additional booster dose for these groups starts from April 2022, coinciding with the rollout of the 2022 influenza vaccination program.

The influenza vaccine can be co-administered with the additional booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, if a person is not yet eligible for their additional booster dose, the influenza vaccine could be given ahead of the additional booster dose.

Comirnaty (Pfizer) or Spikevax (Moderna) are the preferred vaccines for COVID-19, including the additional winter booster dose. Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) can be used when an mRNA vaccine is inappropriate. Nuvaxovid (Novavax) can be used if no other COVID-19 vaccine is suitable for that person.

ATAGI will continue to monitor emerging evidence and may recommend an additional dose for these groups in the future.

Prevention of severe illness from COVID-19 remains the primary goal of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program. These recommendations for an additional booster dose focus on protecting the most vulnerable groups against severe disease and reducing the potential burden on the healthcare system over the coming months.

The secondary aims of the COVID-19 vaccination program are preventing infection and preventing transmission of the virus. There is limited evidence for additional booster doses to prevent transmission. Emerging evidence about the prevention of transmission by vaccination will continue to be monitored, and additional booster doses may be recommended in other groups in the future.

All people aged 16 years and older are recommended to receive a first booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after completing their introductory course. For most people, this will be their third dose. The booster dose is vital to maintain protection against COVID-19.

For any person aged 16 and older who has not received their first booster yet, ATAGI recommends they receive it as soon as possible.

Protection against infection wanes after the first booster dose. However, protection against severe disease (rather than all infection) is relatively well maintained, especially in young, healthy people without "underlying conditions". 

For more information, the full ATAGI Statment can be read here

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