A medical expert who works closely with Australia’s vaccine advisory body has said it is “almost certain” a fifth dose of the Covid vaccine will be recommended in January.
It comes as Australia braces for a new wave of the virus and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) closely watches infection numbers.
“There is going to be a lot of pressure for them to do it (recommend a fifth dose),” the expert said, according to the Herald Sun.
Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and XBB are expected to soon overtake BA.5 as the dominant variants in Australia.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant last week warned what was happening overseas with the new variants indicated cases would rise at home in coming weeks.
“We’re starting to see an increase in Covid-19 cases and changes in the variants circulating in NSW, which tells us that we’re entering the next Covid wave,” she said.
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton made a similar warning.
“We are at the start of another Covid-19 wave,” he said.
Prof Sutton’s weekly report warned the rise in cases of the subvariants was concerning due to their “ability to escape immunity from past infection” and “waning immunity from past vaccination”.
The XBB strain, which is resistant to vaccines and antibodies from previous infections, began to appear in Singapore last month.
The World Health Organisation said there was no epidemiological data to suggest an increase in disease severity due to the variants.
But Australia’s health experts have remained concerned.
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly described the new variants as “the grandchildren of Omicron” on Monday.
“They are more transmissible, but not more severe,” he said.
Prof Kelly said that in his view the “high hybrid immunity from vaccination and previous infection” in Australia would “protect us against that more severe end of the spectrum of disease”.
However, he said it was an important time for people to get their third and fourth dose of the vaccine if they had not already.
While advice on a fifth dose could soon be announced by ATAGI, many Australians have still not had a fourth dose.
Australians considered most at risk of severe illness and those aged 30 and over are eligible to receive a fourth dose three months after their third dose – and 5,025,209 have done so, according to government data as of November 2.
That is in contrast to 20,052,973 Australians over the age of 16 who have received at least one dose, 19,771,761 who have received at least two and 14,268,128 who have received three.