Australia ranks nearly last from 70 countries on our booster rate, but the new normal could soon be either three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or you’re not fully vaccinated.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed today that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is finalising their decision on the change.
“I think it is more likely than not. That’s my expectation,” Hunt told the Nine Network.
At the moment 8.4 million booster shots have been allocated to Australians — that’s just under 70% of those eligible, with over 200,000 third doses going into arms a day.
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A lot can change in a month — at a Senate inquiry last year health department secretary Brendan Murphy said the ATAGI “felt there’s not sufficient evidence to say that someone who’s had two doses needs a third to maintain their fully vaccinated status”.
There were just 37 cases of Omicron in the country at the time.
For over a week now national cabinet’s state and territory leaders have been awaiting advice from the ATAGI but many consider the definition change a foregone conclusion.
Last Thursday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews earmarked in no uncertain terms the third jab as the future for a full vaccination status.
“International evidence, our own experience, the views of experts and hopefully the confirmation of both ATAGI and national cabinet … will mean that everyone knows and understands that this is a three-dose project,” he said.
NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet agreed with Andrews, saying it “made sense” to upgrade the definition to three, and says for now a third dose would make a person “up to date” with vaccination in NSW.
“We’re waiting on advice federally in respect of whether or not it would be deemed that three doses would equal a determination of being fully vaccinated,” he says.
“In the interim, I mean, we can’t say it enough: get boosted. We would say that in order to be up to date with your vaccination. You need to have three doses.”
But there are pockets of Australians who are already mandated to be triple-jabbed.
In December WA Premier Mark McGowan became the first to put his foot down, telling workers in industries already covered by a vaccine mandate that they had to get a third dose within a month of becoming eligible.
In January, NSW and Victoria made booster shots mandatory for all people working in schools, but Victoria didn’t stop there, mandating the booster for those working in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, corrections, hotel quarantine, and food distribution.
In South Australia, Steven Marshall echoed the sentiments of the big states, saying he considered it “increasingly likely” that a third dose would become part of the definition, with South Australian healthcare and aged care workers already required to receive the booster.
In the Top End on Friday, workers in public-facing jobs were told they’d need to get their booster, while high-risk workers were told they’ve got until March 11 — a little over a month — to make it happen.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told his state and federal counterparts to decide for themselves.
“They are decisions taken solely by states and territories,” the PM says.
He says the government only supports mandates in residential aged care, disability, and healthcare sectors.
“I know already that in some states they’re doing mandates on boosters, but that is a matter that states are determining, not the Commonwealth government, and the Commonwealth government has no power to overturn that,” Morrison continued.
So what would a three-jab world look like? We can look overseas to Israel, which changed its definition hard and early in the pandemic thanks to the country’s early adoption of the vaccine.
In July, boosters hit the scene for those over 60 — a month later, it was anyone over the age of 16 who had received a second vaccine five months prior.
Israeli health officials say the data is clear: booster shots helped dampen the fourth wave that swept through the country in August and September, and the country is now onto its fourth round of vaccines — though a preliminary study suggests the second booster’s ability to stop the spread could be waning.
Plus, Australian travellers headed overseas have been warned to check the local definition of “fully vaccinated” — Hawaii, France, Spain, Singapore, the UAE, Austria and Croatia have all tightened their definitions past two doses to varying degrees.
It comes as the ATAGI approved the Pfizer booster shots for 16 and 17-year-olds today — the 370,000-strong cohort is eligible three months after the second jab.