The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Vaccination (ATAGI) yesterday released a statement summarising its updated clinical guidance on COVID-19 vaccines.
The key change was a terminology switch from “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 to “up-to-date” on vaccinations against COVID-19, which had been flagged by the expert body in recent weeks.
The new terminology is intended to clarify vaccination requirements, which vary across age groups and certain medical conditions.
For example, for people aged 16 years and over in the general population, a course of two primary doses of a vaccine plus a booster is considered “up-to-date” on vaccinations, while children under 15 are currently considered “up-to-date” with just the two primary doses.
For severely immunocompromised people, an additional dose is needed – so four doses for those over 16 and three doses for children.
In each case, the type of vaccine received must be approved or recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administation (TGA). Currently, the Cominarty (Pfizer), Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), Spikevax (Moderna), Janssen, and Novavax vaccines are approved for use in Australia. The TGA also recognises the Sinovac, Sinopharm, Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V vaccines for those vaccinated overseas.
The shift away from labelling adults in the general population as “fully vaccinated” with only two doses also reflects the growing evidence that three doses are needed for effective protection against the Omicron variant.
“To optimise protection from the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant, individuals should receive a booster dose 3 months after completion of their primary schedule,” the statement said.
Such booster doses are recommended three months after the second primary dose, and will be considered “overdue” if not received within six months after the primary course.
The changes are recommended to be implemented by the end of March 2022, allowing time for immunisation certificates to be updated. The guidelines are not a mandate regarding booster doses but provide guidance on the clinical benefits of recommended vaccinations.
The guidelines may be altered again as the pandemic evolves – for example, if evidence supports recommending booster doses for children under 16, or as more data on the Omicron variant becomes available.
“ATAGI continues to monitor this emerging evidence, both locally and internationally,” the statement said.