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Don’t wait for variant virus shot: expert

Australians shouldn’t wait for an Omicron-specific booster before getting their fourth COVID-19 jab, according to one of the nation’s leading immunisation experts.

No such shot is going to make it to market in time to protect anyone this winter, says Professor Kristine Macartney from the Australian National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance

“It’s all about what you can do to make things better for yourself and those around you particularly in the coming four to eight weeks,” she told an international COVID conference in Sydney on Thursday.

“We won’t have variant vaccines in the country within that time. So, it’s all about what you can do now.”

ATAGI has updated its vaccine recommendations to help reduce severe disease from the surge of Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, and limit the subsequent burden on the healthcare system.

People aged 50 to 64 are being urged to get a winter booster, while those 30 to 49 can do likewise, but the benefit for them is considered less certain.

The recommended interval between receiving a first booster or having recently acquired the virus, and a second booster is now three months.

UNSW professor Greg Dore earlier told the conference widespread vaccination was likely behind a roughly 50 per cent reduction in the risk of long COVID, rather than it being less prevalent in relation to Omicron.

People yet to contract the virus and not up-to-date with their immunisation were of greatest concern, with around five per cent of all who become infected still displaying symptoms months later, he said.

With 50,000 Australians acquiring the virus each day, at least according to the official count, about 2500 are therefore likely to go on and suffer the longer version.

Prof Dore is part of a long-term study at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney featuring more than 100 patients who contracted the original Alpha COVID-19 strain in early 2020, some whom remain unwell.

Also part of the ADAPT project is a longitudinal study focused on a series of in-depth interviews with patients detailing their experiences, recovery and changed physical capacity.

This aspect of the research is a first in describing the impact of long COVID on the immune system through analysis in a laboratory setting.

The Australasian COVID-19 Conference closes in Sydney on Friday.

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