Are Fourth Doses the Answer to the Coming COVID Tsunami?

third wave covid australia fourht dose vaccines

You’re either totally sick of it, or you’re sick from it. Health experts in Australia are warning that the country is about to get smashed by yet another COVID wave as new variants make their way into the mix.

Australia has recently passed the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths from the virus which has plagued our lives for over two years now, and cases aren’t letting up. While the vast majority of us are vaccinated, we’re still battling to keep control of the virus as immunity from previous infections and vaccines wanes.

NSW’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has urged everyone to wear masks and practice good hygiene to avoid serious consequences.

“Face masks, hand hygiene, staying home when ill, testing yourself when symptoms present, physically distancing, all these measures are not new to us,” Chant said.

“Unless we pull together as one again, this new wave will hit schools and businesses hard, just like BA.1 did, which saw thousands of workers absent.”

Case numbers around the country are on the rise following consistent increases week on week for the past month. However, the BA.2 wave did not lead to as many infections as the BA.1 wave, which is attributed to vaccines and strong immunity from recent infections in the community. We may be lucky this time around again, as long as we keep on top of our doses.

Will Fourth Doses Protect Us From the Next Wave?

The NSW Government is urging everyone to ensure that they are up to date with their vaccines and boosters.

In a statement, they say that “the number of serious illnesses and death toll will increase significantly unless more people immediately get boosted and practise COVID-safe behaviours”.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said figures show 56% (1,232) of COVID-related deaths this year were in people who have had two or fewer doses.

“We are at the beginning of the third wave of Omicron which is likely to peak in late July or early August. This increase in community transmission brings with it greatly increased risks for those not up to date with their vaccines,” Hazzard said.

“The best way you can protect yourself from serious illness or worse is to get every vaccination that is available to you.”

If you are fully vaccinated, you have 65% greater protection against hospitalisation or death from Omicron than with two vaccine doses alone. That’s according to the latest data from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

However, the logic doesn’t entirely follow for fourth doses. Currently, fourth doses are being offered to those who are immunocompromised, considered at risk of serious infection, aged 65 and up, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people above the age of 50. For these people, the next course of a vaccine makes sense, as their immune system may not be able to mount a “robust” response with just three doses.

For others, the data isn’t entirely clear that a fourth dose would help. Studies from Israel, where fourth doses were offered to everyone, didn’t show significant protection against further waves of COVID. It may be that with the current vaccines, our immune systems can only be so prepared. That’s why vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna are busy making Omicron-specific vaccines that could be available in Australia later this year.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is currently considering whether to open up fourth doses to the rest of the population, but at the minute, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, even in the face of this coming wave.

BA.4 and BA.5 New Variants

BA.4 and BA.5 are the variants behind the looming COVID wave. They’re both sub-variants of Omicron which arrived in the country back in April.

Now, Victorian health authorities are warning that the two strains are expected to imminently overtake BA.2 and become the dominant strain in that state. It’s probably safe to assume a similar pattern for the rest of the country as well, given that both Queensland and NSW are dealing with a current rise in hospitalisations following COVID infection.

There is evidence that both variants are more infectious than BA.2 and earlier strains of Omicron. The Omicron strain as a whole has proven to be able to circumvent immunity from vaccines and previous infections, so it’s likely that if you pick up COVID again soon, you have these two to thank.

Still, there isn’t yet strong data to suggest the infection is any worse than other COVID strains. As health authorities have said, the best thing you can do is make sure you’re up to date with your vaccines and practice good COVID hygiene.

You can find out more about the new variants and how to keep yourself safe here:

What We Know About the New BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron Sub-Variants That Have Reached Australia

We’re Closer to Understanding Who Long COVID Impacts the Most Following New Studies

Get Your Bubs Ready-Spaghetti ‘Cause COVID Vaccines for Kids Under Five Are Coming

Getting COVID Twice: What Are The Chances, What Happens, And How To Deal With It

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.