(Australian Associated Press)
Australia’s population-wide coronavirus vaccine booster shot program could start in less than two weeks after the medicines regulator gave the green light.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Wednesday gave provisional approval for Australians 18 and over to receive a top-up dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is now preparing advice on how boosters should be rolled out across the community.
Aged care residents and people with disabilities are expected to receive third jabs as a priority.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is confident boosters will be available for all people who were vaccinated at least six months ago from November 8 at the latest.
Mr Hunt said Australia would have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and roll out boosters before most other nations.
“It’s a universal booster, and so it’s available for people who’ve had Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna,” he told reporters in Canberra.
TGA boss John Skerritt said a recent study on 1000 people showed a third jab increased vaccine efficacy to 96 per cent.
“Boosters may give additional protection against mild COVID and they may have an impact on having transmission,” he said.
“We do know that in the elderly, and people of various shades of immunocompromised that an additional dose is particularly valuable, and it may provide reassurance for frontline health workers.”
By January 1, about 1.6 million people will have been six months or more after their two-dose course.
There will be no requirement to have a booster shot but it will be added to the national immunisation register.
Professor Skerritt said while three shots of vaccines for some diseases offered almost lifelong protection, it was unclear if coronavirus was the same.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t issued with a crystal ball when I got this job,” he said.
“The answer is we’ll have to wait and see.”
Boosters will be available through GPs, pharmacies, states and territories through the existing rollout.
Leading epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said third shots were proven to work well.
“There’s fantastic evidence now that your booster shot really does supercharge your immune system to get that vaccine efficacy up high,” she told the Nine Network.
‘There are many people who will benefit from this.”