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The two things that will move Australia towards 'living with Covid'

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 24/12/2021 Kevin Airs For Daily Mail Australia

Australia's top doctor Paul Kelly has spelt out the stark choice facing Australians in the new normal of how to live with Covid and relaxed restrictions. 

'There are two ways that will happen,' he said on Friday. 'That's either getting the disease, or getting vaccinated.

'I know which one I would choose. I have chosen - I've had my booster.'

The previously relaxed restrictions across the country are now tightening again as Covid case numbers surge to record levels.

And the chief medical officer warned vaccines and booster shots were now the key weapon against the disease. 

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Professor Kelly spoke out as he and health minister Greg Hunt revealed the Covid booster shot program was being accelerated after Christmas.

From January 4, anyone who had their second vaccine dose within four months can access a booster, before the waiting period drops to just three months by February.

'That does give that extra level of protection and does protect you against at least severe disease,' said Prof Kelly on Friday.

'But it is inevitable in this wave that there will be many people who also get infected.

'The reason is because, unfortunately, past infection with other variants does not give great protection against Omicron.' 

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He said three main ways to guard against becoming Covid data were to get tested if requested or feel ill, staying in isolation after a positive test and following personal protection measures, like mask-wearing, whether or not they are mandatory.

'Please follow that, not because it's compulsory, but because that's the right thing to do,' he insisted.

But the best protection, he said was to get vaccinated and get the booster shot.

'Do not hesitate,' he said. 'Make that vaccination appointment. There's plenty of vaccines in the system to do so.'

The more rapid rollout of the booster shots comes after approval by ATAGI, which had previously set the waiting time at six months before quickly dropping that to its current five months.

Mr Hunt denied the move to slash the waiting time again had been political after growing pressure to speed up the program, and insisted the decision was based on medical evidence from overseas. 

He also refuted suggestions that a decision to speed up the program had been delayed by a lack of vaccine supply 

Mr Hunt says Australia has ordered enough supplies of Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax to give the country a fourth or even fifth booster shot in 2022.  

The latest move will make 7.5 million Australians eligible for a booster from January 4.

'It will be expanded again on January 31 to three months and that will take it out to 16 million Australians who will be eligible at that point in time,' said Mr Hunt.

'As we have said all along, eligibility is the beginning of access, it doesn't mean that somebody is overdue the very day they become eligible.' 

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Professor Kelly said receiving one of the first two doses of a Covid vaccine was still the most important priority for the vaccination program.

'We have seen a rise in intensive care patients in New South Wales in recent days, almost all of those have been unvaccinated,' Prof Kelly said.

He said the reasons for bringing forward the booster dosing was to protect those most at risk of severe disease and because, based on international advice, protection from two doses of a Covid vaccine began to wane over time.

'I will stress, just because you get to three months or five months or six months, it doesn't mean that you immediately that day lose your protection. That is not the case,' Prof Kelly said.

'It does decrease over time. It remains in place for severe infection but it is diminished for Omicron compared with Delta.

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'Again, with the booster, it [protection] goes back towards the same levels as Delta. It will be an important and is already becoming an important part of our control of the current Omicron wave in Australia.

Professor Kelly urged vulnerable people - the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with chronic disease and those who are immunocompromised - to come forward first for booster jabs.

'And just a real shoutout to anyone who is pregnant or is planning to be pregnant - these vaccines are very safe in pregnancy,' Prof Kelly said.

'We know now very clearly that both the woman who is pregnant and their unborn child, they are both at risk from this virus and vaccine does protect and is safe.'

Prof Kelly said the delay in switching to three months for a booster after a second vaccine jab was an implementation issue.

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'Throughout this vaccination schedule, there's a sense that everyone wants to be vaccinated on the first day an announcement is made, that is not necessary and indeed is not possible.'

The planned vaccination of 5-11-year-olds beginning on January 5 was not a factor in the delay of the announcement regarding boosters, Mr Hunt said.

Prof Kelly said there were now 10,000 places in Australia people could get the third jab.

He added: 'We have our GPs, our pharmacists, Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, they're all available, they'll all do booster shots, they're already doing booster shots and that will roll out as we go.'

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