Australia's definition of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is set to change, with people aged over 16 years now only considered "up to date" with their vaccinations if they have had booster shots.
Australians will now need three Covid vaccine doses to be considered “up to date” with their shots, but it will be left to individual states to set their own rules on booster mandates.
On Thursday, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced the government’s immunisation advisory body had updated its guidance.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s new guidance states a third dose is required for someone to be considered “up to date” with their vaccinations, moving away from the term ‘fully vaccinated’ which applies to someone who has had two doses. This move comes in recognition of the better protection provided by booster shots, particularly against the Omicron variant.
“Atagi recommends that everyone aged 16 years and older receive a booster dose three months after their primary course, to maintain the best protection and an ‘up to date’ status,” Hunt said in a statement.
“Further, Atagi has advised that if it has been longer than six months since a person’s primary course and they haven’t had a booster, they will no longer be considered ‘up to date’ and instead will be considered ‘overdue’.”
The announcement followed the latest meeting of the national cabinet where states and territories also agreed to start moving toward the final phase of Australia’s virus reopening plan and begin to treat Covid the same way as the flu, which is music to most of our ears.
National cabinet has agreed to set no national three-dose mandates except for workers in aged care, and instead leave booster rules to individual jurisdictions.
Need to get your booster to be ‘up to date’? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the COVID-19 booster shot and can I get the Pfizer booster if I’ve had AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine?
In Australia, The Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna) vaccines are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and recommended by ATAGI as a COVID-19 booster dose.
If you’ve already had Pfizer as your first two doses, your booster shot will be exactly the same as what you’ve already received.
You can also have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as a booster dose regardless of which vaccine you had for your first two doses. Both are preferred over Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), including for people who received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for their primary course.
You can however also receive the Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) vaccine if you can’t have the Pfizer vaccine for medical reasons or had two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine previously.
If however, you are 16 or 17 (or have turned 16 since you had your primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine) you can have the Pfizer vaccine as a booster dose.
Read ATAGI’s advice on the type of vaccine recommended for booster doses.
Benefits of a booster dose
According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, two doses of COVID-19 vaccine provide very good protection, especially against severe disease. A booster dose will make sure the protection from the first two doses is even stronger and longer-lasting, and should help prevent spread of the virus.
A booster dose increases your protection against infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, severe disease and dying from COVID-19, while also protecting your loved ones and your community against COVID-19.
Of course, booster doses will be free for everyone.
Who is eligible for a booster shot?
You are eligible for a COVID-19 booster dose if you are 16 years and older and you had the second dose of your primary dose course of COVID-19 vaccination at least three months ago. Booster doses are not (currently) mandatory, however, they are recommended to maintain immunity against COVID-19. This includes women who are pregnant and severely immunocompromised people who received the third dose as part of their primary course at least four months ago.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is not currently recommending booster doses for people aged 12-17 or for those who have already had a third dose for medical reasons, such as people who are immunocompromised.
Workers from select key sectors in Victoria have been required to get a booster shot as part of the state’s expanded mandatory vaccine policy, as COVID-19 cases surge and new restrictions are enforced. The Victorian Health Department said on Tuesday that fully vaccinated employees in Healthcare, Aged care, Disability, Corrections, Quarantine accommodation, Food distribution
and Abattoir, meat, poultry, and seafood processing workers will need to get their booster shots before they are permitted to work onsite.
Read ATAGI’s advice on COVID-19 booster doses.
When can I get it?
As of Wednesday, January 19 2022, the COVID booster interval timeframe is now three months, recommended by Victoria’s public health team.
The reduced interval timeframe is the latest in a series of shortened intervals that have been recommended due to the severity of the current outbreak, despite some data showing shorter intervals reduces vaccine efficacy.
“If three months have passed since the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine you will be eligible for a third dose,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“That interval has been reduced effective immediately and is on the advice of our public health team and is consistent with ATAGI’s broader statement.”
To check when you had your second dose, you can access your COVID-19 immunisation history in your COVID-19 digital certificate.
From today, you are eligible to receive your third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine three months after your second within Victoria’s state-run vaccination centres. pic.twitter.com/qajBIBKG7n
— VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) January 19, 2022
Where can I get it?
You can find places at COVID-19 Clinic Finder – which also has information on getting help from a translator, booking for someone else or accessible vaccination clinics.
How to book your vaccination
You can use the to book an appointment at a vaccination centre or you can call the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on . Visit the coronavirus website here for locations, hours and access information before walking up.
Those who want to get their third dose at a local GPs or pharmacy can also book through the online clinic finder here.
What if I’ve recently tested positive for COVID?
At the time of writing, there were no set rules on this one. The ATAGI statement reads “If a patient tests positive for COVID-19 between their first and second doses, or between their second and booster dose, the patient should delay next dose until they have recovered from the acute illness”.
This means you’re testing negative (obviously) and your serious symptoms have largely subsided.
The Barwon Health team at the Ford Hub in Geelong advised that four weeks is the recommended time frame, especially if you have underlying health conditions that place you at higher medical risk, you work in a workplace where you have higher risk of COVID exposure or you are required to have a booster dose to go to work.
Staying up to date
To be considered up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, you must have completed all the doses recommended for your age and health status.
Find out about how to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.
Common, mild side effects following a booster dose look similar to the side effects following the first 2 doses.
There is limited data on serious side effects such as myocarditis and pericarditis following a Pfizer and Moderna booster dose, however evidence from Israel suggests that myocarditis and pericarditis following vaccination with Pfizer are not more common after the booster dose, compared with the second dose.
There is not enough data available yet to show the rates of myocarditis and pericarditis following a booster dose of Moderna.
This side effect is being monitored closely by the ATAGI.
What to bring
You just need to wear a face mask and be COVIDSafe when you’re in a vaccination centre.
Don’t forget to update your digital certificate post-booster
Your digital certificate will show only your last two COVID-19 vaccinations. After you get your booster dose, your first dose will no longer appear on your digital certificate.
The ‘valid from’ date on your digital certificate will also change to the date that you received your last dose.
All your COVID-19 vaccinations are recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR). If you need a record of all your vaccinations, you can use your immunisation history statement.
To undate your digital certificate, firstndelete your old digital certificate from your check in app. Then, follow the steps to share your digital certificate with a state check in app to save your updated digital certificate.
You can find out more about COVID-19 in Victoria here or call the hotline on 1800 675 398 for further information.