If you had your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine more than four months ago, it’s time for a booster. This means anyone who had their second dose before mid-July.
Updates from ATAGI have brought forward the recommended time frame for getting a booster shot from the previous six months down to four as clinics, pharmacies, and GPs work through the next phase in the fight against COVID; the booster rollout.
Officially launched on 8 November, the booster rollout has initially focused on residential aged care and disability facilities, however now the general population are being encouraged to book their appointments.
In December, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that the Moderna vaccine has been cleared by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use as a booster and is currently available along with Pfizer and AstraZeneca as a booster jab in Australia.
While two doses are still considered strong protection against COVID-19, there is some evidence that immunity begins to wane after six months which is why it’s important to get a booster shot to keep it strong. However, research has found that even six months after a second dose of the Pfizer jab, vaccines are still 90% effective at preventing severe illness.
It’s a precaution and a way of ensuring we limit the spread and severity of COVID. As Hunt explained on the programme Sunrise, a booster “adds additional protection, and that helps limit the risk of getting the disease, of passing on the disease, and most importantly, of people becoming very ill, needing hospitalisation or potentially losing their life”.
Here’s everything you need to know about the rollout.
Do I Need a COVID Booster Shot?
If you’re immunocompromised or at-risk of serious infection from COVID, it’s best to get a booster shot. ATAGI reccomends these people get theirs two months after their second dose.
In addition, the Breast Cancer Network Australia has said that women and men with breast cancer ought to get their third dose as soon as they are eligible.
Anyone on active treatment with chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiotherapy can also receive a third vaccine two months after their second vaccination.
Cancer treatment compromises the immune system which could result in severe complications if a person contracted COVID-19.
Breast Cancer Network CEO Kirsten Pilatti has said that since COVID-19 is circulating in the community, the booster shot is essential for the vulnerable.
“If you have breast cancer a third vaccine is not an optional extra, it is as important as the first and second doses. We know that those who are immunocompromised may not respond as well to the vaccines resulting in a weaker defence against COVID -19,” Pilatti said.
For everyone else, a booster dose four or more months after the second dose will make sure that the protection from the first doses is even stronger and longer-lasting and should help prevent the spread of the virus.
The way your immune system works is that it produces antibodies to fight specific infections. With a disease not appearing in your system for months, those antibodies break down and are no longer active. However, your immune system still remembers what the disease looks like and how to produce those antibodies.
When COVID does turn up, it will still be able to fight the infection, however, it might not be as rapid at doing so. This means you’ll be more likely to catch the disease in the first place and possibly spread it as your body fights the infection. A booster dose will ensure those antibodies are present from the start and can limit infection and spread.
You won’t need a third dose in order to travel or enjoy the freedoms currently granted in state’s coming out of lockdown. Two doses are still considered full vaccination in Australia while a third is just to ensure your immunity remains strong.
Australia, all things considered, is doing relatively well with its vaccine rollout. Compared with the rest of the world, we’re late, but we’re highly vaccinated. While there are pockets and regions that still need to be the focus of the initial rollout, and case number are breaking records each day. in terms of our vaccine rates, we’re doing alright.
That matters because other countries, with higher or similar vaccine rates, suffered greatly as they opened back up. Granted, few places have had quite as strict or prolonged COVID restrictions as Australia has had, but the virus, as we know, is relentless.
Israel, for example, had one of the highest vaccination rates on the planet and still saw extremely high case numbers, deaths, and hospitalisations. However, that outbreak was significantly mitigated by their booster programme and cases have so far declined off the back of it.
This is why we need booster shots. If we want to keep our newfound freedoms and prevent hospitalisations rising further, booster shots are one good way of doing that.
How to Get a COVID Booster Shot in Australia
For those in care facilities, the rollout has been underway for the past few months with in-reach programmes, so those individuals should have already been contacted for a booster shot.
All primary care sites around the country now offer Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca as booster jabs, so it’s best to contact your local healthcare provider directly to see when boosters will be made available and when you can book in for one.
How Does Omicron Affect COVID Booster shots?
The spread of the new Omicron variant does make things a little more complicated when it comes to vaccines in general.
ATAGI’s decision to bring the booster schedule forward by two months for individuals is in response to Omicron and they are basing their rationale on the successful Israeli programme giving boosters at five months from second dose.
“The weight of evidence suggests that a booster vaccine increases antibody levels substantially and this will likely offer protection against both Delta and the new Omicron variant,” they write.
“The anticipated benefits of bringing forward the booster dose include earlier protection, particularly against severe disease in those at risk, and improved protection against COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant”.
The first in-depth laboratory study of the new strain has shown that it is able to evade much of the antibodies of our immune system geared to fight COVID-19, with scientists in South Africa finding a 41-fold drop in the virus-blocking abilities of antibodies when compared with other strains of the virus.
However, the study authors state that some immunity is better than no immunity and that getting a booster jab is now more important than ever in limiting the spread of omicron.
Scientists have said that this information is not a reason to panic, and that, while “omicron may be vaccine-resistant”, it is not “booster-proof.”
While research is still being conducted on whether or not the new variant is more deadly than previous generations, the major pharmaceutical companies responsible for the vaccines are already at work on new jabs that could counter the spread of emerging variants.
Pfizer has said that they still believe their vaccines and booster shots will offer “a high level of protection against severe disease” in response to omicron and that they can modify their existing vaccine within six weeks and be ready to ship them in 100 days.
Moderna is also doing similar and say that their vaccine could pass clinical trials in two to three months.
A Fourth Vaccine Dose?
With the ongoing rise of Omicron, some scientists and the general public are expecting that we may have to have a continuing supply of booster shots over the years to keep the virus at bay.
It’s a depressing thought, however, evidence shows that a single booster is not only able to lift immunity, it is able to keep it relatively high, much higher than simply having two shots.
Australia, however, has forged ahead with the fourth dose for some people. Now, there is a bit of a discrepancy here between an additional dose and a second booster. An additional dose is typically given as a standard course of vaccination to people who’s immune systems cannot mount a robust response after two or even three doses of the vaccine.
A second booster would just be given to top up already high levels of immunity, but this isnt on the cards in Australia just yet. There are some slight differences in the booster and the additional, for example the Moderna booster is just half a shot of what the primary and secondary doses are.
In NSW, immunocompromised people are now eligible for a fourth dose of the vaccine, provided they received their booster more than three months ago. Other states have yet to offer this but we expect they will soon and will update you when those announcements are made.
Until then, getting a boost to your immune system against COVID with a third dose is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from this new strain.