Patients with diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases will be eligible for a second COVID-19 booster dose.
ATAGI has extended its recommendations for a so-called ‘winter dose’ to cover patients aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions and those with disabilities who have complex health needs.
Health workers and pregnant women with no underlying conditions will remain ineligible.
Until now, second boosters were only recommended for older patients, the severely immunocompromised and residents of disability care facilities.
ATAGI says the ‘winter booster’ may be given four months after the first booster dose.
And in line with the old advice, ATAGI said patients who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 should wait three months before getting getting boosted.
Explaining the decision not to include health workers in the program, ATAGI said studies had shown this population had “a greater risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection in community settings than through exposure at work”.
It added: “Studies have shown that unvaccinated pregnant women are at higher risk of severe outcomes compared with non-pregnant women, [but] these studies were from early in the pandemic.”
There was still a relative lack of data on severe outcomes during the Omicron wave and in vaccinated or boosted individuals, ATAGI said.
Meanwhile, the expert group notes that about 30% of Australians eligible for a first booster dose have not yet had it.
“These eligible people are strongly encouraged to receive their first booster dose promptly to maximise protection prior to winter,” ATAGI said.
Acting Minister for Health Katy Gallagher told reporters the extended rollout would officially affect 1.5 million Australians.
The type of chronic diseases that qualify are: cancer, inflammatory disease, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, kidney disease.