Roll up, roll up; the government has announced that it will be expanding the eligibility of fourth dose vaccinations to include everyone above the age of 30.
Additional booster shots have been recommended by Australia’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) for those over 50, while those over 30 are are free to choose whether they want an extra shot. The new measures will come into place on Monday, July 11.
The news comes as the government is attempting to battle a rising wave of COVID infections as the country weathers the cold. Earlier this week, it was announced by several state health authorities that Australia is about to face a third COVID wave, with cases increasing week on week. It’s thought that the next round of boosters will be able to offer further protection against severe illness and death while stemming the spread of the disease over the coming weeks and months.
In May, ATAGI announced that fourth doses would be made available to those over the age of 65, Indigenous people over the age of 50, and immunocompromised and at-risk populations. They have now broadened their scope, meaning that an additional 7.4 million Australians are now eligible for fourth doses.
60% of those who are currently eligible have already had their fourth dose and government is urging everyone in the expanded group to come forward as soon as possible to get the next jab.
Health Minister Mark Butler has said that it’s vital as many people as possible are protected as the third wave surges across the country.
“My message to everyone living in Australia aged 50 and over is to make sure you have the greatest protection against COVID-19 by having a fourth dose as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
“If you are aged 30 to 49 and you want that extra protection, you can choose to get a fourth dose.
“The vaccine experts on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation have recommended it — and the Government has accepted this advice”.
ATAGI specifically recommends a fourth dose to those in the over 50 group, but says that those aged 30-49 “can” receive an additional booster, however “the benefit for people in this age group is less certain”.
Should You Get A Fourth Dose?
As ATAGI state, the benefits of getting a fourth dose are potentially limited. They recommend that a three-month interval be given between a fourth dose and a the third dose of a COVID vaccine or a COVID infection, suggesting that they are targeting waning immunity.
Studies, like the one conducted in Israel on their fourth dose programme, have found that while an additional booster does offer some protection, that protection is limited. It’s not the same increase in defence against the virus as compared to the booster, which significantly raised immunity.
The reason ATAGI is now allowing those above 30 to get a fourth dose is because of the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron strains which are set to become dominant, if they’re not already, across Australia. While these strains are not thought to be any more serious than previous Omicron strains, they are thought to be more infectious, hence the need to increase immunity.
ATAGI state that the “impact of this expanded vaccine booster recommendation alone is expected to be limited”.
In addition to fourth doses, they advise that other public health measures are going to have a greater impact on stopping the spread of the disease. These include the usual – increased use of masks and social distancing, taking time off work and away from social settings when ill.
At the moment, ATAGI “does not support making the winter booster dose available to healthy adults aged less than 30 years” because they say it’s unclear “whether the benefits outweigh the risks in this population”.
Where to Get a Fourth Dose
Much like the initial booster programme, fourth doses will be rolled out in pharmacies and other frontline medical centres. If you’ve already had your third shot, getting in touch with the place that arranged it will be your best option.
The government also has this handy vaccine finder for you to plug in your address and find the closest and quickest place to get that fourth shot done.