why more plans are unlikely to be approved this year

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Last week, Canada approved the Pfizer booster for ages 12 and older and the Moderna booster for adults 18 and older. Singapore has also approved the Moderna booster for ages 18 and older. Both recommend people get their reminders every six months.

The Moderna bivalent shot is available as a booster in Australia but is not recommended above other shots.

However, Cheng said overseas approvals were “a pretty mixed bag”, noting that Denmark had yet to give children a second dose.

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“We’re all looking at the same data and landing in slightly different places,” he said.

“Vaccines are beneficial and protective even for young people, but the more doses you get, the less benefit you get, and we start to worry about side effects.”

Speaking at a hearing on the Senate estimates last week, Dr. Lucas de Toca, chief of the federal Department of Health’s primary care response to COVID-19, said ATAGI was “looking into ongoing evidence and emerging trends” of vaccine approval, but his advice was to focus on increasing coverage among third- and fourth-dose eligible groups.

“Based on the evidence we have, an older person who has kept up to date with their vaccinations still has good protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death,” he said.

While absorption of the fourth dose is close to 80% in people aged 75 and over, the department’s data shows that it was significantly lower in younger age groups: only 38% of people aged 50 to 64 received their fourth vaccine.

Among people aged 30 to 49, who are allowed to receive the fourth vaccine despite not being “recommended” due to its uncertain relative benefit, only 16% received four doses.

More than half (52%) of young people aged 16 to 29 have not yet received the three recommended doses.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the hearing he was “very pleased” with vaccination coverage, noting there was also strong hybrid immunity in the community, against previous infection and vaccination.

He said the best way for vulnerable people to protect themselves against COVID-19 is to ensure they have a plan to receive antivirals quickly if they test positive.

Professor Tony Cunningham, co-director of the virus research center at the Westmead Institute, said preliminary evidence overseas was that emerging strains of Omicron were more evasive of antibody immunity than the sub- BA.5 variant, which was dominant during the winter.

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“Obviously we need to encourage this group of people who are eligible but have not received a reminder to do so,” he said, adding that he personally believed Australia should prioritize the use of the bivalent vaccine Omicron, although the ATAGI did not express it.

“But we also have to remember that there is this hybrid immunity of people. The majority of people in Australia have had COVID in one of Omicron’s three waves: you could say that’s the equivalent of having the bivalent vaccines.

Associate Professor James Wood, an ATAGI member and a mathematician at UNSW’s School of Population Health, agreed that hybrid immunity would likely reduce the severity of the new wave.

However, with recent serological surveys showing that less than half of people over the age of 65 have antibodies indicative of previous infection, he said it was particularly important that the elderly and vulnerable were up to date with their vaccinations.

Current COVID-19 vaccine recommendations by ATAGI

Ages

  • Primary course: Two doses of the age-specific pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children with severe immunocompromised conditions, disabilities, or complex or multiple health conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19, with a third injection after two months for children severely immunocompromised
  • Booster: Not yet approved

5-11 years old (age range eligible since January 2022)

  • Primary course: Two doses of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, with a third injection after two months for severely immunocompromised people
  • Booster (after three months): Eligible if severely immunocompromised, have a disability with significant or complex health needs, or have complex and/or multiple health conditions that increase risk of severe COVID-19

12-15 years old (age range eligible since September 2021)

  • Primary course: Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a third injection after two months for certain health conditions
  • Booster (after three months): Eligible if severely immunocompromised, have a disability with significant or complex health needs, or have complex and/or multiple health conditions that increase risk of severe COVID-19

16-29 years old (age range eligible since July 2021)

  • Primary course: Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a third injection after two months for certain health conditions
  • Booster (after three months)
  • Fourth Dose/Winter: Eligible if a resident of a care facility for the aged or disabled, severely immunocompromised, with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19, or with a disability

30-49 years old (age group progressively eligible since May 2021)

  • Primary course: Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a third injection after two months for certain health conditions
  • Booster (after three months)
  • Fourth dose/winter (after three months): Allowed to receive, but encouraged to assess own risk of catching or spreading serious COVID-19 infection due to uncertain benefit

50 years and over (age group progressively eligible since February 2021)

  • Primary course: Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with a third injection after two months for certain health conditions
  • Booster (after three months)
  • Fourth dose/winter (after three months)

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