Winter COVID booster program expanded but not enough, advocates say

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
The COVID-19 vaccine winter booster dose will be available to more people with disability from Monday, but not all of the community. [Source: iStock]
The COVID-19 vaccine winter booster dose will be available to more people with disability from Monday, but not all of the community. [Source: iStock]

From Monday, 1.5 million more Australians will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine winter booster dose.

The Department of Health has expanded eligibility for the booster to people between the ages of 16 and 64 with a medical condition and an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, and this includes people with disability with significant or complex health needs.

To get the fourth dose of the vaccine, this cohort will have to have received their initial booster at least six months ago.

The winter booster was already available for people who had the initial booster six months ago if they were over 65, living in residential aged care or disability facilities, severely immunocompromised or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and at least 50 years old.

The Department of Health says the winter booster program was expanded to give those at risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19, including people who may be hospitalised, more chance of having a milder reaction to the virus.

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) Senior Policy Manager, Giancarlo de Vera, says the peak advocacy organisation welcomes the expansion of the winter booster program to some people with disability but believes it’s not enough.

“PWDA welcomes the COVID winter booster as another layer of protection for people with disability against COVID,” says Mx* de Vera.

“However, we believe the booster should be available to all people with disability, not just those with complex health needs.

“Many people with disability are clinically vulnerable to COVID and so this protection should be extended more broadly.”

A Department of Health spokesperson says the reason the winter booster is not available to more people is that there is not enough evidence it will give others greater protection.

They say the winter booster is also now unlikely to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

“Evidence shows that while protection against infection wanes after the first booster dose, protection against severe disease (rather than all infection) is well maintained, especially in young healthy people,” says the spokesperson.

“Further, there is insufficient evidence of benefits beyond a single booster dose in preventing transmission to warrant recommending an additional dose in the general population.”

“Widespread additional dose vaccination of the general population would, therefore, not be expected to materially impact on the current community transmission of COVID-19 at this time.”

The vaccine is not the only form of protection available against COVID-19 though, and Mx de Vera says the Government has work to do in helping to keep people with disability safe as the virus runs rampant throughout the country.

“As restrictions have lifted across the country, people with disability remain at risk, especially now that Australia has the highest rate of COVID infection per capita in the world,” explains Mx de Vera.

“We need more protection to keep people with disability safe and PWDA is calling on the new Government to honour its Election commitment and work with us and the disability sector to develop and implement a comprehensive long-term plan around COVID protection for people with disability.”

The long-term COVID-19 recovery plan is backed by all eight national peak disability representative organisations:

  • PWDA
  • Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Children and Young People with Disability Australia
  • First Peoples Disability Network Australia
  • Inclusion Australia
  • Disability Advocacy Network Australia
  • National Ethnic Disability Alliance
  • Women with Disabilities Australia

Before the Election, PWDA asked for responses from political parties on a range of issues and the Labor Party, which is set to form the new Government, committed to improving COVID protections for people with disability – the key to the recovery plan.

*Mx is a gender-neutral title used by people who don’t identify as being of a particular gender or people who don’t want to be identified by gender. [Definition from Merriam-Webster online dictionary]