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Push for COVID-19 boosters as the vaccination rate drops in the middle of the winter flu season

Written by Javed Iqbal

As Western Australia’s third COVID-19 vaccine dose drops, experts urge society to keep getting boosted.

The state is still the leader in the country with more than 82 percent of over 16-year-olds triple-dosed, but that rate has shifted less than two percent in the past month.

Pharmacist Anthony Masi has seen the decline in demand on his own in his Bull Creek store, saying a number of factors are likely to have had an impact, including removing vaccination requirements for many workers.

“The removal of the mandate has taken [away] This requirement for people to be vaccinated is thinking, ‘if I do not have to do it, I will not do it,’ he said.

“You also cannot be vaccinated for three months after you have had COVID, and we have had significant increases in infections, so that also affects the immunization rates.”

Figures from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s WA department suggest that state pharmacies deliver around 1,300 to 1,500 COVID-19 vaccines a day now, compared to 12,000 to 13,000 in January.

Spiekvax
The modern COVID-19 vaccine is available as a booster dose for people 18 years of age and older. (ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

Influenza vaccines are instead the biggest request, amid a free vaccine initiative from the state government – pharmacies have delivered nearly 275,000 flu vaccines, up from 182,000 in 2021.

Third dose speed stalls

WA’s third dose of COVID-19 vaccination rose dramatically at the beginning of the year after eligibility opened up to more people from 4 January.

But after jumps of more than 30 and 20 percent in the first months of 2022, progress has slowed.

The third dose is well below the second dose, which is more than 95 per cent of Western Australians over the age of 12.

Deakin University Chair in Epidemiology Catherine Bennett said there was a sense that things were “getting back to normal”.

“I think people who were really worried went and got it early, and I think other people probably put it off because they weren’t worried or actually had an infection,” she said.

Main image by Professor Catherine Bennett
Professor Catherine Bennett believes that people are getting used to living with COVID.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

UWA Public Health spokeswoman Barbara Nattabi said fatigue was likely a factor.

“For two years we have been on high alert, worried about getting COVID-19,” she said.

“People are tired of the pandemic, we’re getting used to the numbers.

“At first, when we had 4,000 cases on the way up, it was shocking, but because we’re on the way down, people think ‘okay, we’re past the top’ … so there’s no more that fear of being on guard, Wear masks, get boosters. “

State may have ‘hit a wall’

Dr. Nattabi said it was important now for governments to figure out what could be done to get the third dose up.

“Those who need to get one have got one, so I think we’ve basically hit a wall,” she said.

A woman in a blue dress stands in a park and looks at the camera.
Barbara Nattabi believes COVID fears have subsided.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The speaker said that problems with health competence could come into play.

“Sometimes we make the assumption that people do not want to get the vaccine, but many people may not understand why they should have the booster,” she said.

“They may have understood why they should have the first vaccine, possibly the second, but why they should have the third or fourth may be a question that has not been answered for some populations.”

Dr. Nattabi said there were also pockets of communities having problems accessing health care that needed to be investigated.

As of June 19, federal health data showed that the areas of East Pilbara, Goldfields, Gosnells, Kimberley, Kwinana, Serpentine-Jarrahdale, Swan and Wanneroo all sat around the high 70s for the percentage of eligible people over 16 who had received more than two doses, slightly below state figures.

But the booster rates for indigenous peoples are still much lower. Only 56.8 percent of Aborigines in the Goldfields-Esperance region have received their third dose, and 63 percent of those in Swan

“We have a lot to celebrate, it’s not doom and gloom, but it’s important for the government to find out the remaining people who have not been boosted – is there anything that can be done?” said Dr. Nattabi.

The winter months a concern

With most of the winter left, Professor Bennett said booster vaccines were a critical part of protecting society from COVID-19.

“We live with another pathogen in our community – that’s an important consideration through the winter, when we mix more indoors, we’re more prone to spread,” she said.

“We see it every normal year with colds and flu, but now we also have COVID in the mix.”

Professor Bennett said boosters offered a “cross-reactive immunity to Omicron that we did not have with the first two doses”, which could also offer protection against other upcoming variants.

Dr. Nattabi pointed out that even though Western Australia’s COVID-19 case had dropped, thousands were still reported every day.

“I think we’re complacent considering we still have two months of winter,” she said.

The federal government launched a $ 11 million campaign this week to encourage people to be vaccinated for both COVID-19 and influenza, highlighting the ‘double threat’ from community-based transmission of the two.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Karen Price welcomed the campaign.

Adjunct Professor Karen Price, President of RACGP, smiles at the camera with a landscape image in the background
Karen Price believes that self-satisfaction has arisen around COVID.(Delivered: RACGP)

“Unfortunately, some complacency has occurred and people who are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine or booster have chosen not to do so,” she said.

“It is important that these patients take into account the new government campaign and see their doctor as soon as possible to keep up to date with their vaccinations.”

Boosters provide the best protection

A spokesman for Western Australian Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the delay of the full border opening by a month had allowed tens of thousands more people to be vaccinated with the third dose.

They said anyone entitled to their third dose should get it as soon as possible.

“We know that three doses provide the best protection against the Omicron strain,” the spokesman said.

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Javed Iqbal

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