Teen booster approved amid slow jab uptake

Andrew Brown |

Teenagers could soon be able to receive their COVID-19 booster in a matter of days after a third dose for 16 and 17-year-olds was approved by the medical regulator.

It comes as Australia recorded its deadliest days of the pandemic, with 92 fatalities reported on Friday.

As the number of people who have received a booster continues to rise, eligibility is set to expand to 16 and 17-year-olds, following provisional approval of the Pfizer booster for the age group.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said final approval still needed to be handed down by the country’s leading vaccine advisory group, which could be green lit soon.

“We are hoping to receive the ATAGI advice within the next week, if not earlier, and if that’s a positive, we can make this available immediately,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

There were 39 deaths in Victoria and 12,755 new cases on Friday, while NSW registered 13,333 cases and 35 fatalities.

There were also 18 deaths and 9974 cases in Queensland, while Tasmania had 584 cases and no deaths.

While COVID-19 cases are plateauing, the country’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Professor Alison McMillan, said death rates were set to remain high for some time.

“As we have seen during the two years of the pandemic, the number of deaths associated with those cases stay higher for a longer period,” she said.

“There is a delay in the number of deaths, sadly, we have seen quite a number of deaths.”

The high fatality rate has prompted a renewed emphasis on booster shots, with two-thirds of the eligible population now having received their third dose.

The eligibility between the second and third doses is set to be lowered from four months to three months from Monday, however, many states and territories have reduced the time frame ahead of schedule.

While NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said people who had recently acquired COVID-19 should wait for four to six weeks after their infection to get the booster, Professor McMillan urged for people to get the third dose sooner.

She said people would be able to get their booster immediately after they stopped displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

“We know that an initial infection does potentially provide you with a small amount of protection from COVID, but we really don’t yet know how much,” she said.

“But we do know that the booster will provide you with high levels of protection against severe disease and death.”

With large numbers of aged care facilities across the country being affected by the Omicron wave of COVID-19, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the government’s handling of COVID in the sector.

He said about 86 per cent of aged care facilities had received visits for booster shots.

The prime minister also defended Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, after it was revealed he chose to attend the cricket over a COVID-19 committee hearing when 40 per cent of the system was in lockdown.

While Senator Colbeck said he couldn’t attend the hearing due to diverting resources away from “urgent and critical work”, his register of interests showed he accepted tickets to the Ashes test in Hobart for three days.

“Ministers have many responsibilities, I can understand the criticism … I think Richard has taken that on board,” Mr Morrison told radio station 4BC.

“I know what he does each and every day or the welfare of people living in our residential aged care facilities, and he’ll take the criticism on the chin and he’ll get back to work.”