A fourth Covid vaccine will be made available to more Australians as health authorities attempt to stave off further spread of the infectious virus which continues to place the health system under enormous pressure.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) met on Wednesday, and agreed to recommend the booster program be expanded. Nine newspapers reported a fourth vaccine will be made available to anyone aged over 30, with a special recommendation for those aged over 50 to take up the offer.

Health minister Mark Butler will be briefed on Atagi’s recommendations on Thursday.

On Wednesday evening, Butler’s spokesperson said the minister had “no formal advice” from Atagi on any changes, but the government had been preparing to expand the program given the ballooning number of Covid infections.

While three doses of the vaccine is proving effective at managing the worst of the virus, it has not held off the spread.

The lag in people taking up their third booster shot is thought to be one of the main contributing reasons to what is shaping up as Australia’s third Omicron wave of infections.

People who have had two vaccines or fewer are six times more likely to need hospitalisation if infected, compared to people who have had three doses.

The arrival of the Covid sub variants; BA.4 and BA.5, two of the most infectious strains yet, is one of the drivers behind the expanded booster program.

On Wednesday, Butler told Melbourne radio 3AW the government stood ready to roll out vaccines if a fourth shot was recommended for more of the population.

“I’m very confident that, if there’s an expansion of the fourth doses by Atagi over the next couple of days, we’ve got more than enough vaccine in the warehouses and more than enough capacity in our pharmacies in our GP surgeries to deliver that as soon as people want it,” he said.

“The real challenge is to get people lining up to get it. There’s more than five million people who are overdue their third dose, so it’s more than six months since they had their second dose. They’re still overdue their third dose and I encourage them to go out and get it.”

More than five million Australians did not take up the third booster dose of the vaccine, which was made available six months after their second vaccine shot was administered.

Over 65s have been eligible for a fourth dose since late May, but 40% of that population cohort are still to take up the offer.

While Australia is “living with the virus”, hospital admissions have spiked as infection numbers continue to rise.

With an average of 33,000 Covid cases being reported each day, the government is also pushing to expand the use of anti-virals as a treatment option.

“We’re working on this as a matter of urgency,” Butler said.

“We put an urgent submission before the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee about the oral antivirals.”

Butler said he had also been in discussions with vaccine producers, Pfizer and Moderna about priority access to new vaccines which are being made available for regulation across the globe.

“We are absolutely committed to doing whatever we can as a government to get through this winter and get through this third Omicron wave that’s headed our way,” he said.

Source: The Guardian