The Australian government is planning to launch a population-wide COVID-19 vaccination booster program by 2022, pending approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the country’s medicine and therapeutics regulator.
The news of the plan comes as Australia reached the 70 percent vaccination milestone on Wednesday, which will move the nation closer to “phase B” of the national reopening roadmap, with more freedoms released.
The TGA and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) are preparing advice on booster shots for the general population, with around 500,000 immunocompromised people having already started receiving boosters.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said he believes the general population can start receiving COVID-19 boosters later this year.
“Would I like to see it commence this year and do I expect it to commence this year? Yes, and yes,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra.
People in the aged care sector are expected to start receiving boosters from the second week of November, while Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said those vaccinated at the start of the rollout would also be the first to receive third injections.
“They will be the first in line because they are now six or more months after that second dose,” Kelly said.
The third dose is likely to be either a Moderna or a Pfizer, with the latter expected to announce an eight-month gap between the second and booster dose.
Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler argued that health, border, and quarantine workers should also be prioritized for booster shots.
“Every step of the way, Scott Morrison has been months and months behind the rest of the developed world,” Butler told reporters in Adelaide. “The Australian people can’t afford for him to bungle boosters as well.”
But there is concern that offering booster shots in countries that have excellent vaccination rates are not the right move, with the World Health Organisation arguing against booster shots until third world countries have received their first.
Australian infectious diseases expert Robert Booy agrees.
He argues that it may not be that urgent to roll out a booster program in Australia, considering those vaccines could be utilised for countries like neighbouring Papua New Guinea which is experiencing a COVID outbreak with a vaccination rate under five percent.
“They’ve got hundreds of thousands of cases and deaths,” Booy told the Nine Network.
“We’d be stopping a mutation. A mutation in Papua New Guinea which is a canoe ride away from Australia,” he said. “That is a way to stop further problems with COVID, to help our neighbours, to help ourselves.”
AAP contributed to this report.