COVID-19 fourth-dose boosters to be recommended for people over 50

The nation’s expert vaccine advisory body is expected to recommend anyone older than 50 receive a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

But it is not yet clear what guidance will be given to those aged 30 to 49, with internal discussion about permitting a fourth dose but not specifically recommending it.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will soon finalise and deliver its advice to the federal government.

The ABC has spoken with two sources familiar with discussions who are not authorised to speak publicly.

The expected changes follow strong messaging from politicians at a state and federal level who have made it clear they would support the fourth dose being offered to more age groups.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said there was “a strong case” for Australians under 65 to receive the additional booster shot but said there was an “open question” about whether young, healthy people needed it.

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  • Earlier this week, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he would back a general expansion of the vaccine rollout while Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews urged the fourth shots to be given to healthcare workers.

    Under the current guidelines, the fourth dose is available to people aged over 65, aged care residents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and older, people with a disability, the immunocompromised and anyone over 16 with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19.

    On Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had urged health experts to work quickly on matters relating to COVID-19, including vaccines. 

    “I’ve encouraged them, when I met with the health authorities, including the CMO, before I departed a bit over a week ago, I encouraged them to do things as quickly as possible,” he said on Wednesday.

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    While more than 95 per cent of people over 16 are fully vaccinated, the number of people getting boosters has slumped since February.

    Only 70.5 per cent of the eligible population has received three or more doses.

    About 2,413,000 people had received a fourth dose as of Monday, 59 per cent of people who were eligible.

    “ATAGI continues to emphasise the importance of remaining up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations by receiving the primary course and one or two booster doses according to eligibility,” the group said in a statement earlier this week.

    “The booster doses provide additional protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death as compared with the primary course.”

    People who have recently been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are advised to delay their booster shot until three months after their infection.

    Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said ATAGI had been waiting for the appropriate time to expand eligibility. 

    “They have been pressured for a long time now to go to a fourth shot for everybody, but they wanted to hold their shot,” Dr Moy said. 

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