Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that the government has no plans based on current medical advice to mandate any Australians get COVID-19 booster shots in order to be considered “fully vaccinated.”
His comments were made in response to ABC’s Insiders host David Speers, who had played for his audience a clip of White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci saying he believes that booster shots are an “absolutely essential part of the program.”
“I guess the question is, is it essential?” Speers asked Hunt. “I know you don’t right now, but are you going to require it for air travel? Are you going to require aged-care workers to have that booster? Will you have to revisit this somewhere down the track and make it essential, that it’s a three-dose vaccine program?”
Speers didn’t mention that Fauci’s views on boosters are contested among experts in the United States, with other experts advising U.S. health agencies saying that they believe the data, so far, shows that the vaccines continue to be effective at preventing hospitalization and death, and that there is little reason to push booster shots for the wider population. However, the efficacy of the shots against infection has dropped dramatically since earlier this year.
Hunt said that based on the best and latest medical advice from Australia’s independent medical advisers, booster shots are “recommended” by the government.
“It’s recommended,” he told Speers. “The advice at this stage from Prof Murphy’s scientific advisory group is that you’re regarded as fully vaccinated with two doses.”
He added, “Everything’s always under review, but there’s no plan to change that requirement at this stage. As we’ve done throughout [the pandemic], we’ll continue to follow the medical advice.”
“That’s how we’ve had one of the lowest rates of loss of life in the world, one of the highest rates of vaccination, and now one of the earliest whole-of-nation booster programs in the world,” Hunt said.
Australia’s third dose booster program has been running for a week and already more than 250,000 people have chosen to make the most of their access to get a booster jab.
Regulators Not Wanting to Cut Corners on Child Vaccine
Speers also asked Hunt whether Australia would follow the United States in its world-first emergency approval of Pfizer vaccinations for children 5- to 11-years-old.
Hunt said that Australia’s regulators had indicated they expect to finalise their independent review of U.S. data and return their decision in the first part of January.
“They’re going as quickly as possible … We’re ready to go when our regulators are convinced that it’s safe and effective for children,” Hunt said.
He added that because the U.S. data was from a “very small clinical trial” on only a few thousand children, Australia’s regulators have said they want to review the real-world data that will now be coming out of the United States before making any approvals.
“Our medical regulator[s], the TGA and the technical advisory group (ATAGI) lead by Dr. Allen Cheng, have said they do not want to cut corners on the study and data for children,” Hunt said.
Speers then asked the minister, “Should [families] be worried about unvaccinated kids hugging their grandparents at Christmas?”
“I’ll leave that to the medical advisers,” Hunt said. “Very simply, the critical thing is, obviously, stay as COVID-safe as possible. But if everybody’s vaccinated, the best protection for kids is vaccinated parents, family members, and siblings over the age of 12.”
As of Nov. 13, over 83 percent of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated.
AAP reporter Colin Brinsden contributed to this report.