COVID boosters need a boost

March 30, 2022 BY

As of March 13, less than two-thirds of eligible Australians had received their third dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: BARWON HEALTH

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the federal government to launch a public campaign encouraging eligible people to receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.

It comes following reports of complacency creeping into the booster rollout with not enough people receiving their third dose despite being eligible.

As of March 13, less than two-thirds (65.6 per cent) of eligible people have received a third COVID-19 vaccine dose. That number is significantly lower in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where less than half (49.4 per cent) of eligible people have received a third dose.

The RACGP has previously advocated for the federal government to ramp up campaigns to boost vaccine confidence, including national targeted messaging and advertising for specific cohorts. An RACGP member survey conducted in mid-2021, which canvassed attitudes and experiences of practices taking part in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, found 92 per cent of members said that improvement was needed in relation to “public awareness and education”.

RACGP president Dr Karen Price said that time was of the essence.

“Complacency is a killer, and we need to act now to get more booster doses in arms as quickly as possible,” she said.

“Some people are confused about when to get their booster dose after contracting the virus and others are potentially complacent because of widespread media reports about the Omicron variant being less severe. This virus still needs to be taken very seriously and having your booster dose could make all the difference between having relatively mild symptoms or suffering serious effects.

“Winter is fast approaching, and we need to act with urgency. The federal government should launch a media campaign encouraging all eligible people to get their booster dose as soon as possible.

“This should include information on why the booster is so important to limit your chance of experiencing serious effects, as well as clarification on when to get your booster after contracting COVID-19. Many people may not realise that you can receive a vaccine dose, including a booster, once your isolation period has ended and your symptoms have ceased.

“So once your fever, headache, sore throat, or runny nose has subsided – contact your GP to book in your booster. If you were lucky enough to be asymptomatic, book in as soon as possible. You don’t need to wait several weeks or months to get your booster post-COVID-19.

She said the campaign should also stress that people who had caught COVID-19 still needed to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as they were are eligible.

“You should not rely on natural immunity to protect you from reinfection. The experts aren’t completely sure how much protection an initial COVID-19 infection offers but we do know that the booster will provide you with high levels of protection.

“We should be so proud that as a country we stepped up and did what we needed to get through this pandemic. We followed public health orders, we stayed home when we were asked, and we went out and got vaccinated. Our primary vaccination rate is one of the highest in the world so let’s continue that good work by getting our booster rate up there too.”

Dr Price also warned that practices delivering COVID-19 vaccines need more assistance.

“This pandemic is not over and complacency concerning boosters is concerning. General practices will step up to get the vaccine rollout back on track, but we need a helping hand from the government to do so.”