COVID-19 cases remain high in Australia due to the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
Many people are also getting the virus for a second and third time. The latest evidence shows that getting reinfected with COVID-19 can occur within a short period of time, with the newer Omicron subvariants.
The best way for people to protect themselves from severe illness or death is to have an additional booster. At the time of writing only 71.7% people aged 16+ have had 3 doses and 39.4% of eligible people 30+ have had a 4th dose.
Dr Norman Swan answers some of the questions your patients may ask.
Who should have a booster?
Everyone aged 16 years and over who’s had their first two doses three or more months ago and 12-15 year olds who have health problems which increase the risk of severe COVID.
Does it matter which vaccine I have for my booster dose?
Either Pfizer or Moderna for people aged 18 years and over. Only Pfizer for 12-17 year olds. And for people aged 18 and over, Novavax or Astra Zeneca if a person has had heart inflammation (myocarditis) or would strongly prefer it.
Who should have an additional booster dose (ie the 4th dose)?
Everyone aged 30 years and over who had their third dose three or more months ago. The people who’ll benefit most though are those aged 50 and over, especially First Nations people, anyone aged 16 and over living in a residential facility, and people aged 16 and over with a medical condition that puts them at risk of severe COVID.
Should I have a booster dose if I’ve had a COVID infection?
Yes, because having the vaccine gives you better immunity and longer protection against severe disease. You should wait three months from the infection.
Should I wait until the Omicron versions of the vaccine become available?
No, because there’s so much virus around and you need protection now.
Are the vaccine side effects worse after the booster doses?
No. The evidence suggests the side effects are no greater with booster doses.
What happens if I don’t get my booster COVID vaccine dose?
The booster dose significantly reduces your chances of being admitted to hospital and intensive care with COVID and dying from it. The current vaccines are good at preventing severe COVID disease, but they become less effective as time passes since your last dose. The booster doses get your immunity back to where it was – or even better.
If you’ve had your first booster (third dose) your risk of dying of COVID compared to having had just the first two doses is more than halved. And in some groups, the subsequent booster (fourth dose) has a similar effect. The benefits are similar across all age groups and there’s evidence that COVID vaccines reduce both the severity of Long COVID, and the chances of developing it in the first place.