COVID-19 vaccine ‘winter’ booster doses

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A COVID-19 vaccine booster is already recommended for all Australians over 16, but an additional booster is now recommended for people who are more likely to have serious symptoms if they catch the virus.

Key points

  • An additional booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is being recommended for people more at risk of severe illness from the virus
  • The shot is being called a ‘winter’ booster dose because experts hope it will help people to stay healthier during the colder weather when sickness is more common
  • The additional booster shot is not yet available to everyone

A further dose of the vaccine, also called the winter booster, is being recommended in the hope that it will help to keep people who are at risk safer over winter, as the colder weather makes it easier to catch viruses.

Who can get another booster dose?

For now, the additional booster dose is limited to some groups of people who are at a higher risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19, including:

  • Adults aged 65 years and older
  • Residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • People aged 16 years and older with severe immunocompromised conditions
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older
  • People aged 16 to 64 with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • People aged 16 to 64 with disability and significant or complex health needs that increase risk of sickness from COVID-19

You have to have finished your primary course of vaccination and have received an initial booster shot before having the additional dose.

Some people, including those who are severely immunocompromised and people undergoing cancer treatment, have been able to receive a fourth vaccination for several months already as the fourth shot will bring them up to a level of immunity as close to the rest of the population as possible.

For this group of people, the fourth shot is considered their booster shot and the additional winter booster will be their fifth dose.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) – which makes recommendations to the Government about the COVID-19 vaccine – currently doesn’t believe there is enough evidence that an additional booster will help to protect other people with disability, or support workers, any more than the first booster does.

When can I get a winter booster dose?

The first booster shot, whether it was your third or fourth dose, must have been at least four months ago before you will be able to get an additional shot.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 you also need to wait four months after your infection to have the winter booster.

The rollout of the additional booster is likely to start this month (April) and run alongside the usual influenza vaccination program.

The major difference between previous shots of the COVID-19 vaccine you might have had and the additional booster is that there is no gap required between a flu shot and the winter COVID-19 booster.

This means you can get the flu shot at the same time as the added booster.

If you have not yet reached four months since your last booster or COVID-19 infection you can also have the flu shot straight away and have the additional booster when you are eligible, without having to think about when you had your flu vaccine.

You must get the winter booster as soon as possible before the cold weather sets in so that you can be protected over the winter.

When can I get an additional booster?

The same clinics which offer booster doses already should soon begin to offer an additional booster dose.

This includes State and Territory clinics, GPs, pharmacies, Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

However, if you do want to get the flu shot at the same time as the winter COVID-19 dose, you will need to book into a clinic that regularly gives flu shots as well – a chemist, pharmacy or GP clinic.

If you live in residential aged care or a group home you may be able to get support to receive the additional booster in the same way you received your first booster – talk to your provider about setting up an appointment as soon as possible.

What vaccine can I get as an additional booster?

It is recommended that you get either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for your additional booster, regardless of whether you had these vaccines for your previous doses or not.

If your first booster was Pfizer or Moderna you will likely have the same vaccine for the additional booster.

Pfizer is also the only vaccine approved as a booster for 16 and 17 year olds, as the other vaccines are only approved for people aged 18 or older.

There is the option of having AstraZeneca as an additional booster if you have had a bad reaction to the other two vaccines or you would really prefer to have AstraZeneca.

The fourth vaccine available in Australia – Novavax – can be used as a last resort for the additional booster if none of the other options work for you.

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