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Experts say COVID-19 booster dose for teenagers needed but older groups remain priority

ABC Health logo ABC Health 3 days ago

While teenagers in Israel and the United State have been jabbed with booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines, their Australian counterparts are still waiting for authorities to give the green light to the third dose.

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is only just considering an application for booster shots for 16 to 17-year-olds.

This means that many teenagers in this age group will be going back to school in late January and early February with weakening immunity to COVID-19. 

For those who were quick to get vaccinated once they were able from August 30, it will be over four months since they got their second jab. 

By the end of January, adults will be able to get a booster only three months after their second dose, a decision made to help protect people from the fast-spreading Omicron variant. 

But medical experts like University of Western Australia epidemiologist Zoe Hyde say more vulnerable members of the community should be a priority to get booster shots over teenagers.

"There's no question that the teens will need boosters but the issue is we have a limited number of vaccines and a limited number of staff to do the vaccination," she said.

"There are people in Australia who should probably be prioritised because of the greater risks.

"You have people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s who have not had a booster. That cohort needs to be done first."

Two doses for all should be initial goal: expert

Professor Peter Richmond, who runs the vaccines trial group at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, said immunity in teenagers waned after five to six months.

"That's when they're starting to see these breakthrough infections that are occurring, particularly in the United States, so their recommendation is a booster after five months," he said.

"So it will be something we will have to think about quite quickly, I would think, particularly if we begin to see outbreaks in schools."

But Professor Richmond said it should first be a priority that teenagers got at least two doses of the vaccine.

"That's what's most important because that's what protects you against severe disease of any variant," he said.

"But really the advantage of getting this third dose is that will help to reduce further minor infections and those rare cases where children do get sick after having the vaccine."

TGA expected to move quickly after US decision 

Vaccines need to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) then advises government on their use.

Professor Richmond said the TGA would look at data from around the world to assess the safety of the booster for 16 to 17-year-olds, its side effects and whether it worked to sufficiently boost the immunity of those getting the jab.

It is not known how long it will take the TGA to make a decision on the application.

But Professor Richmond said the decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the booster for 12 to 18-year-olds could speed things up.

"I think that's really reassuring and I suspect that might mean that the process will be much shorter for the TGA," he said.

Across Australia, 86.2 per cent of people aged 16 to 19 have had two jabs, compared to 74.6 per cent of those aged between 12 and 15.

But while Pfizer has said that while two doses of vaccine protects again severe disease, they might not be enough to stop infection by the Omicron variant.

Earlier this week, Pfizer chairman and chief executive Albert Bourla told CNBC the company hoped to have a new vaccine which would be more effective against the Omicron variant ready by March.

"The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection, particularly against infections," he said.

"Because the protection against the hospitalisations and the severe disease, it is, it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you are having, let's say, the third dose."

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