COVID-19

ATAGI to consider fourth Covid vaccine dose as new wave begins

Another wave of the pandemic is already building, with flu and Covid combining to cripple the workforce. Two new variants of the virus – BA.4 and BA.5 – are behind 35 per cent of all cases in NSW and are expected to become the dominant strain in the next few weeks. Cases grew by 17 per cent last week with almost 9000 diagnoses in the 24 hours to Sunday. Experts blamed the more infectious new variants, which can evade immunity gained from the vaccines and earlier infections, along with a rise of other respiratory viruses (RSV).The Australia Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will discuss expanding the fourth dose for under 65s when it meets on Wednesday, which Infectious Diseases physician Paul Griffin said made sense.Professor Griffin said ATAGI had expanded the eligibility last month to include the immunocompromised and those at higher risk of getting ill from Covid even if they are under the age of 65.“We have more infectious sub-variants where our vaccine protection is waning,” he said.NED-6507-Covid-Booster-Guide“I think particularly as we go through what looks to be a very significant wave of transmission, increasing access to that fourth dose would make sense.”Prof Griffin said infection immunity was not guaranteed against the two strains but there was no evidence they are more severe than previous iterations.Chief health officer Kerry Chant put businesses and employers on notice, warning that hospitalisations were expected to spike in late July and early August. “Workforce across all industries is going to be significantly impacted,” she said. Case numbers and hospitalisations would likely be of a similar “magnitude” to the Omicron wave in January which brought many industries to a halt. “That was our first taste of Omicron (but) we’ve also got the flu and RSV. A wave is coming and we know the vaccines have been very effective in preventing people from getting severely ill but against the Omicron variant they aren’t good in preventing infections.” Dr Chant said managing the virus had changed and it was clear that three doses + and even four — were required to flatten the curve. “My clear message is you need three doses and/or four doses. Last year we said two doses. It’s clear you need three or four doses,” she said. Dr Chant said the health workforce was seeing absenteeism and the trend was likely to be replicated in other industries. More than 90 per cent of 600 NSW businesses surveyed said they were struggling with workforce shortages. “Staff shortages is the No.1 issue we are hearing from businesses,” Business NSW chief Daniel Hunter said. “More workers off with Covid will put even more pressure on our members.”

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