If you’re a healthy 30-year-old in Australia, you can get a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from Monday. So, should you?
The message from most epidemiologists is that it is a good idea which could ease the burden on the health system but, ultimately, the choice is yours.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Nancy Baxter went a step further than others, urging everybody to get the fourth dose to minimise the “impending disaster” of the next peak of the Omicron wave.
People at a walk-in vaccination centre in Broadmeadows on Friday.Credit:Wayne Taylor
So far, 588,906 Victorians have already had a winter fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Health experts welcomed the federal government’s decision to widen its availability. Here’s what they had to say about whether, and when, you should get it.
Will it stop me from getting sick?
The main benefit of the vaccine is to minimise the risk of hospitalisation or death. It won’t stop you getting COVID-19, but it does put downward pressure on transmission. That means the more people get vaccinated, the lower the peak of the impending wave.
“If we have a lot of 30 to 50-year-olds get vaccinated now, that peak won’t be as high,” Baxter said.
“We’ll avoid a lot of people getting it right now, and we’ll be on the other side of the curve [sooner]. Thirty to 50-year-olds getting vaccinated will be a part of that.”
How long should I wait since an infection, or my booster?
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) suggested that people wait three months after recovering from COVID-19 or their last dose before getting their next jab.
Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, said the new sub variants were breaching immunity and people could wait one month after recovering before getting their next dose.
“If it’s been months, you’d be absolutely thinking it’s about your time,” Bennett said.
For many Australians, including people with vulnerabilities, it has been six months since their booster dose and that protection has waned.
Should I wait for the Omicron-specific vaccine?
Baxter said Australia is not in a position to wait for the Omicron-specific vaccine, with a peak of BA.4 and BA.5 sub variants on the way and immunity for many waning.
”Number one, we don’t know when it’s actually going to be available,” Baxter said. She said it could take months to be approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Association and ATAGI in Australia and people were better off taking the vaccines that are available.
“This is a tool we have, we have an impending disaster in the month ahead, let’s use the tool we have this month.”
Are there risks?
The risk of complications from a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in people in their 30s and 40s is very low, lower than the risk of complications from the coronavirus, experts said.
“The risk-benefit ratio is in favour of vaccination, and there are some people in their 30s and 40s that don’t realise they have a chronic medical condition – they’ll benefit even more,” infectious disease paediatrician Professor Robert Booy said.
What factors should I consider?
Associate Professor James Trauer, the head of epidemiological modelling at Monash University, said people aged 30 to 50 should make the choice based on their own risk factors, infection and vaccine history.
“Everybody has to assess their own risk. If you have co-morbidities, of course that’s a reason you might want to [get the fourth dose],” Trauer said.
He said there were risk factors for the coronavirus that people weren’t aware of. Men were more likely than women to become seriously ill, and pregnancy was also a risk factor.
Booy said the risk of severe illness or death “goes up dramatically each decade”, so a 49-year-old was much more likely to be hospitalised than a 30-year-old.
People could also consider whether they have had COVID-19 yet, how long ago they were infected, and how seriously they had it.
Baxter, who said it was not yet clear how the fourth dose impacted the likelihood of long-COVID, said higher risk occupations such as healthcare or essential workers should more strongly consider getting the fourth dose.
What if I haven’t had my booster yet?
Experts said more needed to be done to get boosters into peoples’ arms.
While Victoria’s uptake of the first and second doses was strong, the rate of boosters for over 16-year-olds has lagged at 68.5 per cent.
“We know the booster is a game changer,” Baxter said.
“The booster is a winner for everyone.”
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