‘A matter of urgency’: Fourth Covid jab on the way

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) made its call on expanding the second booster in a meeting yesterday but is still finalising the details of the rollout. The change in policy comes after The Daily Telegraph revealed ATAGI was deliberating on the change amid pressure from state health authorities. The formal advice is expected to be with Federal Health Minister Mark Butler on Friday.The decision comes after NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pushed for a “winter dose” to be made available to more Australians as the third wave of Covid — combined with a deadly flu season — continues to cripple hospitals and businesses.The fourth dose is currently only available for people over 65 or those with specific comorbidities.Even pregnant women are not ­eligible. Federal Health Minister Mark Butler is set to receive the advice on Thursday or Friday, and said the federal government would act on it “as a matter of urgency”.Covid boosterSpeaking prior to ATAGI’s decision being confirmed, he said he would be “very surprised” if the age range for the fourth jab was not lowered.“There’s a strong case for expanding eligibility for a fourth dose,” Mr Butler said.“Broadly, that 65 year cut-off is seen as pretty high if you look at the rest of the world.”“It might not be absolutely everyone in the community because there’s still not a great deal of evidence yet for very young, healthy people getting the fourth dose at this point in time, but certainly some of those middle age groups, I think there’s a strong case.“We are absolutely committed to doing whatever we can as a government to get through this winter and get through this third Omicron wave that’s headed our way.”Mr Hazzard said “there is no time to waste”.“The rolling average is 15 people a day are dying, and I would encourage the bureaucratic process to steamroll through,” he said.“I am strongly of the view that we need to be on the front foot and drop the ages down to more in the order of 30 to 40 at least.”Earlier on Wednesday Mr Albanese revealed he had spoken to ATAGI and encouraged it to fast-track the “inevitable” expansion.“My view is that we will ­inevitably follow what has ­occurred in other parts of the world and roll out a further booster shot,” Mr Albanese said. “Because we know that over time, people’s immunity decreases as the distance from when they’ve received their last shot occurs. ATAGI no doubt will look at the evidence which is there … and I encouraged them to do things as quickly as ­possible.”NED-6507-Covid-Booster-GuideInfectious diseases physician Paul Griffin welcomed the decision but hoped the expansion was a “liberal” one which would see as many Australians eligible as supply allows.“People at high risk of acquisition, critical essential workers, are the people it should be expanded to at a minimum. It’s been more than six months since they’ve had their last dose. There are a number of key groups that have been left behind that it would be great to see expanded to,” he said.“My view would be to expand it to basically anybody that wants to get it … the only reason to not expand it more broadly would be if we didn’t have the supply. I would favour a more liberal approach to make it less complex.”

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