Call to lower age limit for fourth jab

A fourth COVID vaccine dose should be offered to all Australians over 50 as a way to reduce the risk of rising viral infections across the country, an epidemiologist says.

As Australia’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed 10,000, infectious disease pediatrician Professor Robert Booy said lowering the age limit for a fourth vaccine dose — or second booster — should be considered.

Currently, a fourth dose is only available for people over 65, people in elderly or disabled care, as well as people who are severely immunocompromised.

“It’s a good idea to lower the lower limit from 65 to 50,” Booy said Monday.

“There are a lot of people with chronic medical conditions in their 50s and early 60s, and they would really benefit from it.”

Booy said about 20 percent of the eligible population over age 65 has yet to receive their fourth dose.

“They are playing roulette…there is an effective vaccine. If you had three doses, the fourth will dramatically increase your protection,” he said.

“Having a booster for some time in the past six months is very protective against hospitalization and death.”

As COVID cases continue to rise across Australia due to more transmissible strains of the Omicron variant, experts have called for the reintroduction of mask mandates to reduce the spread.

Professor Adrian Esterman said caution was advised as public health restrictions were eased.

“Right now we’re getting the BA.5 and BA.4 variants that take over from BA.2,” he said.

“We see the effective reproductive number — which tells us how bad or well things are going — greater than one in all states and territories.

“And that tells us that the number of cases will go up, the number of hospitalizations will always go up…and the number of deaths will also go up.”

However, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University Catherine Bennett said that while mask use should be increased, mandates were not the way to do it.

“If you have rules, they start to wear out people’s adherence or compliance with those rules, and the enforcement of those rules. We’ve seen that happen,” she says.

“Helping people understand their risks relative to where they are, I think, can also make a difference.”

Health authorities have urged nearly six million Australians to receive vaccine boosters to ease the pressure on hospitals and ensure greater personal protection against the virus.

It’s because border restrictions imposed in response to the virus are to be lifted, with arriving passengers no longer required to declare their vaccination status or receive a travel waiver.

Changes to the Biosecurity Act, which will come into effect on Wednesday, were made in response to Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly’s advice that it was no longer necessary for travelers to declare their vaccination status.

The Digital Passenger Declaration required people entering Australia to provide their contact details, vaccination status, where they had been in the past 14 days, and to follow quarantine and testing requirements.


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