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Greg Hunt with COVID-19 Taskforce Commander, Lieutenant General John Frewen at a press conference in Parliament House, Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Pfizer boosters approved, aged care residents up first

The government has announced that COVID-19 vaccination booster shots have been approved by the regulator, with aged care residents at the head of the queue.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccination for adults 18 years and over, at least six months after their first dose of the vaccine.

Greg Hunt, minister for health and aged care, said that subject to final advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), he expects the new round of vaccination will commence "no later than 8 November".

"Original priority groups, including people in aged care and disability care settings, [are] to be offered the option to receive a booster as a priority," he said.

In his statement, Hunt said that Australia, "a vaccination nation", has administered 34.6 million COVID-19 vaccines to date, with 87 per cent of eligible Australians aged 16 and older having received a first dose and over 74 per cent have now received a second dose.

Australians who are severely immunocompromised have already been eligible for the third shot since October 11, and the news of a booster shot will be welcome to many in aged care as Australia continues to open back up.

However there has been no clear word on whether aged care staff will be included in the booster program.

ACSA chief executive Paul Sadler said booster shots for staff must be a priority and that lessons should be learned from the original rollout.

"On-site vaccination teams are the best way to make it easy," he said.

"ATAGI and the TGA are yet to confirm the rollout date in early November. If it does start in November, unfortunately, it means that a separate booster program is needed for staff. Especially since staff were vaccinated en masse much later than the residents they care for.

"Until this happens, we must continue using other measures, such as Rapid Antigen Testing and safe re-opening of visitations in areas of concern. ACSA will continue to advocate for mandatory vaccination for home care staff across all jurisdictions."

When asked by journalists if booster shots would be mandatory for workers already subject to vaccine mandates, Minister Hunt was vague.

"At this stage, there’s no plan or intention. And again, the Commonwealth has not been mandating other than in the aged care staff setting," he said.

"At the moment, we’re at 99.8 per cent, and I want to thank all of those staff for participating in that. And again, we’ll always follow the medical advice. So, I'll leave that to individual states or territories," he said.

Meanwhile, ACSA believe that the sector needs more clarity.

"The messaging about vaccines and eligibility is already confusing. We need to make it clear, easy and fast to give aged care the best protection possible from the virus when it is certain to be circulating in the community.

"We are concerned that a whole-of-population rollout might mean our workers end up behind when they should be in front,” Sadler said.

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