Vaccine Boosters Have Started Rolling Out in Australia

Vaccine Boosters Have Started Rolling Out in Australia
(Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP, Getty Images)

As Australia speeds towards its vaccine targets, it’s time to think about booster shots, with administration of a third jab officially starting today. We say officially because as at the time of publish, over 100,000 Australians had already received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

This post was originally published on October 27 and has since been updated with current information.

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provisionally approved booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals aged over 18 on October 27. And on November 8, Australia’s vaccine booster program officially kicked off.

The vaccines are most effective when you’ve received two doses of the same vaccine. But the third shot can be any of the approved vaccines (currently, Pfizer Comirnaty or AstraZeneca, with Moderna boosters expected super soon).

“The first dose of your vaccine will begin to build up a protective response against COVID-19 in your body. The second dose will boost your immune response to give you long-term protection against COVID-19. Without the second dose, your body will not be able to fight the virus as effectively,” Department of Health says.

Who can get a Pfizer booster shot?

Anyone over 18 can receive a booster or third dose of the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine, providing six months has passed since they received their second shot. This means if you were fully vaccinated by May 8, 2021, you can now get your booster.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended the Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine be preferred for the booster dose – irrespective of what vaccine a person received for their primary course of vaccination.

The initial focus of the booster rollout is on residential aged care and disability facilities.

The booster rollout program will initially target population groups that were prioritised for early vaccination because the great majority of people within these cohorts are now ready for their booster vaccination, having had their second dose six or more months ago.

Does AstraZeneca have a booster?

Yep. Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) has been allowed as the third dose for immunocompromised individuals in Australia, but it’s still preferred that Pfizer be given where possible to those individuals. For everyone else, AstraZeneca can be used as a booster for people who received it as their primary course, or if they had an adverse reaction to an mRNA vaccine. The general booster rollout at this stage only includes Pfizer, however.

AstraZeneca is slightly different to Pfizer and Moderna as it is a more traditional vector vaccine rather than mRNA. It is also the only COVID-19 vaccine Australia has been able to produce locally.

What about Moderna boosters?

A booster shot of the other mRNA vaccine, Moderna (aka Spikevax), is yet to be approved in Australia but it has been included in the booster program. Moderna boosters have already been approved internationally in the U.S. and Europe, so we can expect to see Moderna booster shots approved really soon.

Australia’s vaccine agreement with Moderna also covers 15 million doses of variant-specific versions of the vaccine, which are expected in early 2022.

Are we getting Novavax boosters?

The TGA is evaluating a protein vaccine developed by Novavax. It is not yet available in Australia. If the TGA approves this vaccine for use in Australia, we expect 51 million doses will be available in late 2021. This is enough doses to cover Australia’s whole population.

Doses for Australia may be manufactured in several locations across Europe. The Novavax vaccine is one of 9 supported by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global partnership to accelerate vaccine development.

Do I need a booster?

The government has said people will not be required to receive booster shots in order to be exempt from COVID-19 restrictions, but for protection reasons, Health says it’s a good idea.

As of November 8, 2021, 80.5 per cent of Australians were double vaccinated with over 173,000 boosters administered.