No need for COVID booster shots yet

(Stefan Rousseu/PA via AP)

There’s no evidence COVID-19 booster shots are needed yet in Australia, an infectious diseases expert says.

The Czech Republic said this week it would offer booster shots to anyone vaccinated at least eight months earlier, joining a growing list of countries stepping up measures to curb the spread of the Delta variant.

Media reports out of Israel suggest the more infectious Delta strain is leading to cases of re-infection, but it is unclear whether this is the result of waning antibodies from vaccinations which began in that country in December 2020.

Australian National University’s Professor Peter Collignon said he was aware of the situation in Israel, but it was still unclear how antibody levels dropped over time.

And further work is needed on how waning immunity could affect protection against hospitalisation and death.

“The evidence is not there that we need (boosters) yet,” he told AAP on Tuesday.

“I think we need more data.”

He said the overwhelming evidence to date was people being admitted to hospital tended to be unvaccinated.

Professor Collignon said the other issue was ensuring less-wealthy countries, where initial vaccination rates were low, received the necessary doses to complete the first stage of their programs.

“We need the world vaccinated,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who received his second vaccination in March, was asked on 4CA radio on Tuesday whether Australia needed to move to boosters soon to deal with any new variants coming into the country when overseas travel resumes.

“That’s been the story of Delta, and that’s why we’ve always been fairly nimble, as best as we can, with our response,” he said.

“We’ve got, you know, 80 million or thereabouts booster doses for next year … to ensure that we maintain our protection.

“Once we get to those high vaccination rates, we’ve got to maintain them with the booster shots.”

The health department told AAP the government was “actively monitoring the evidence on the need for booster vaccination”.

But before any booster vaccine could be given it must be considered and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administrator and medical experts.

The government has secured 25 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, including 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine.

It also has an advance purchase agreement with Novavax for 51 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

As well, the government has secured 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for 2022 and 25 million doses for 2023, in addition to the 40 million Pfizer doses being delivered in 2021.

“This means we can be ready to address longer term immunity or emerging variants of the virus,” the department said.


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