Australian adults will be able to get a fifth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine within a fortnight, after the federal government accepted advice from its expert vaccine advisory body.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended all people aged 18 and over, who have not had either a COVID-19 vaccine or confirmed coronavirus case in the last six months, can get their latest shot from February 20.
A fifth dose had only been available in Australia for adults who were severely immunocompromised, with growing calls for further protection to be made available to a broader group of Australians.
ATAGI has reiterated those already eligible, including those over 65, remain at high risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 and should have a 2023 booster.
The announcement also opens fourth doses up to Australians aged 18-29, with only those considered most at risk of severe illness or aged 30 and over previously eligible for a fourth dose
At this stage, an additional booster will not be provided to Australians under 18, unless they have health conditions that put them at risk of severe illness.
ATAGI said while all COVID-19 booster shots would be beneficial, Omicron-specific mRNA vaccines were preferred.
While uptake of the first two vaccine doses was incredibly high in Australia — thanks in part to mandates — the number of Australians rolling up their sleeves for third and fourth doses has lagged behind.
In January, just 72 per cent of the eligible population had received three doses, while just over 44 per cent, or 5.4 million people, had gone back for a fourth.
Some experts have called for the government to focus on administering those doses to eligible Australians, rather than expanding vaccine eligibility.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the government had secured 4 million Omicron-specific booster doses available currently, with another 10 arriving this month.
"From February 20, all adults who haven't had a booster or an infection in the past six months can go out and get a booster shot, to give them additional protection against severe illness from COVID," he said.
"If you're 65 or over, or you're an adult at risk of severe COVID illness, and it's been six months since your last booster or infection, it's now time for a booster."