People with medical conditions or disabilities that increase the risk of severe Covid-19 will be eligible for a fourth vaccine dose after updated advice by Australian health authorities.
From 30 May about 1.5 million more people aged 16 to 64 will be eligible for the fourth dose, the interim health minister, Katy Gallagher, announced on Wednesday.
However, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) has not given the green light for healthy people who do not have a risk factor for severe disease to receive a second booster. This includes healthcare workers and pregnant women who do not have other risk factors.
On 25 March Atagi extended fourth covid vaccinations for the highest risk groups: people aged 65 years and above, residents of aged care or disability care facilities, the severely immunocompromised and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or above.
Atagi’s updated advice recommended a fourth dose four months after the third dose for people aged 16 to 64 who have: “A medical condition that increases the risk of severe Covid-19 illness; and people with disability with significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities which increase risk of poor outcome from Covid-19”.
The latter “particularly” included Down’s Syndrome or complex multisystem disorders, Atagi said.
Medical conditions that qualify include: immunocompromising conditions; cancer; inflammatory conditions; chronic lung, liver, cardiac or neurological diseases; diabetes; severe chronic kidney disease; severe obesity or being severely underweight.
Atagi said people who had had three doses had a “relatively preserved protection” but a fourth dose could provide “a further increase in the level of protection against severe disease and death”.
People who were eligible for the winter dose but had had a recent infection of Covid-19 should delay their winter booster until three months after their infection, it said.
Despite world-beating health results in the first two years of the pandemic and a high vaccination rate for the two primary doses, Australia is experiencing an increase in Covid cases and deaths.
Australia has had 5,939 deaths this year compared with just 2,239 over 2020 and 2021. According to the World Health Organisation, 53.2% of Australians have received a booster, trailing some other developed countries including Singapore and South Korea.
Gallagher told reporters she was advised there were “no supply issues”. The advice did not support extending fourth doses to healthy people “but it remains under review”, Gallagher said.
During the election campaign Labor promised to consider a renewed push to curb Covid, including more advertising to support booster vaccinations, while the Coalition talked down the need for extra measures.