Culture

Everything You Need To Know About Fading COVID Vaccine Immunity And Booster Shots

The TGA has officially approved Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for Australians over 18.

pfizer booster

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The Therapeutic Goods Administration has officially approved Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots for Australians over 18, so get ready to roll up your sleeves (again).

Although the booster shot has received TGA approval, the Federal Government will wait for advice from ATAGI before confirming who should receive a third shot, and when.

“In addition, consistent with [Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] advice, the TGA Product Information (PI) also now includes a statement that a third dose may be given to severely immunocompromised people aged 12 years and over at least 28 days after the second dose,” the TGA said in a statement on Wednesday.

So how’s it all going to work?

What’s The Deal With Booster Shots?

Pending final advice from ATAGI, Australia’s booster shot program will begin no later than November 8, according to Hunt. The program will prioritise immunocompromised people, those in aged care, and those with a disability before the rest of the country.

Additionally, Pfizer has been approved as a universal booster shot, which means it doesn’t matter which vaccine you received for your first two shots — you will (eventually) be eligible for a Pfizer top-up.

“It’s a universal booster,” said Hunt. “It’s available for people who’ve had Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna”.

Severely immunocompromised people have been eligible for a third shot since October 11, according to the Department of Health.

“Since October 11, Australians who are severely immunocompromised have been able to receive a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to boost their protection against COVID-19 to the highest level,” the Department of Health told Junkee. “We expect to receive advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and ATAGI within the coming weeks about the administration of booster doses for the general population.

“ATAGI is closely monitoring local and international data about the frequency and severity of COVID 19 infection in fully vaccinated individuals to inform future booster strategies. ATAGI is also reviewing the international data on the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of additional doses for high-risk patient populations and the population more generally.”

However, Greg Hunt confirmed the third dose for immunocompromised people is part of their path to full vaccination and is a different program to the booster shot rollout we’re seeing in the coming weeks.

“It’s different from the third dose for immunocompromised, which was considered part of the primary treatment program, and that’s why that decision was able to be made,” he said in a press conference.

Are Other Countries Doing Booster Shots?

Australia isn’t the first country to rollout a booster shot program, and our advice is largely based on the evidence we’ve seen from Israel.

“On the booster program, that is currently actively being looked at with ATAGI. I had several meetings with the ATAGI group, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, who reports directly to the Minister for Health, yesterday about boosters, and to hear the latest information we have from around the world,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said in a press conference.

“There are several countries now that have started on booster programs in different, different ways, but particularly in Israel, where they’ve gone very rapidly with a booster program for the whole population, and we were able to look at the data that had come out from Israel yesterday.

“And it very much confirms that this is safe, that it is effective in all age groups for both decreasing infections as well as severe disease, and then for the older age groups…prevention of death.

“That is absolutely proven now from the Israeli data. That is the way that they have done it, and, and that’s before ATAGI now to be looked at.”

Is Pfizer The Only Option?

Right now? Yes.

According to Minister Hunt, Pfizer is the only vaccine that has been approved for use as a booster shot. “Moderna and AstraZeneca, at this stage, are still to submit their booster vaccine application,” Hunt said in a press conference.

This doesn’t mean Pfizer will always be the only option for a booster shot, but it has been approved as a universal option, so there’s no general reason why you should hold out for AstraZeneca or Moderna (unless, of course, your doctor recommends this).

So Does That Mean I’m Not Fully Vaccinated?

If you’ve received two doses of an approved vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated right now. However, we have always known that vaccines are not permanent, which is why you often need booster shots for whooping cough if your friends just had a baby, or top-ups of other vaccines before travelling (ahh, remember travelling?).

“[They] show the vaccines work; they also show you may get some waning of immunity,” Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases professor at the Australian National University Medical School told newsGPciting a study into vaccine immunity fading.

“Every vaccine fades over time, that’s not a real surprise. To my mind, the main point of the vaccines is to stop you dying and to stop you getting seriously ill as judged by hospitalisation.”

This isn’t new information, but with media coverage of fading immunity posing a threat in the UK, it can be a little daunting to think that our efforts to get jabbed so quickly could be in vain.

Thankfully, the Department of Health has been quick to dispel misinformation — confirming that booster shots are part of an ongoing strategy to keep Australians safe long-term.

This Government is ready to address any longer-term immunity or emerging variants of the virus through our agreements on booster doses,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health told Junkee.

 With more than 151 million Pfizer, Novavax and Moderna vaccines already secured for supply into the future, Australia is well prepared to provide booster doses if they are recommended by the medical experts.

When Do I Need A Booster?

Booster shots will be given six months after your second dose of the vaccine, so it’s probably worth bookmarking that date in your calendar now. According to TGA deputy secretary John Skerritt, approximately 1.6 million Australians will be due for their booster shot by January 1.