Top 3 with Dr Lucas De Toca – Winter Preparedness

Dr Lucas De Toca, COVID-19 Primary Care Response First Assistant Secretary, answers the Top Three questions across our channels.

Date published:
General public

Hello. My name is Dr Lucas De Toca, and I work for the Department of Health. I'm speaking today from Ngunnawal country, on Ngunnawal Dhawura, so I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land and any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewer with us here today.

Today is all about winter preparedness. As the refrain goes, winter is coming. We are weeks away from formally commencing winter, and we are seeing COVID cases continuing to increase, as well as very rapidly increasing cases of flu. After two years without really a flu season, it's very clear that this year we will have a flu season and it's likely to be a big one, especially given that we are testing more than we have before.

So, we are going to talk about what you can do from a COVID booster preparedness, we are going to talk about flu vaccine, and we are going to talk about COVID oral treatments. On COVID boosters, it is really important that you remain up to date with your COVID booster. ATAGI yesterday changed their advice, and that's the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, changed their advice on winter doses, recommending that more people receive an additional shot of COVID in preparation for winter. You may remember that, at this stage, everyone 16 years and over is recommended to have three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine. Your primary course, and then three months later, your booster. And since April, people 65 years and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and over, and people with situation in which they are severely immunocompromised were encouraged to receive an additional winter shot. ATAGI yesterday changed their advice to include additional groups. So, now, people 16 years and over with underlying conditions that may increase their risk of severe disease from COVID-19, chronic lung disease, people with active cancers, people with disability, particularly complex disability that requires supports, are now also recommended to receive their winter COVID shot. So, three shots for most people, and now a significant amount of people are also recommended a fourth shot. Your winter COVID dose is recommended four months after your booster, and, of course, if you've had COVID recently, you're recommended to wait three months until you receive your next dose because the COVID infection in itself is providing you a bit of a boost and that way you maximise the effect of your additional shot. So, another reminder, if you're 65 years and over, or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person 50 years and over, or you're severely immunocompromised, as well as anyone 16 years and over with chronic conditions that increase their risk of severe disease from COVID, or with complex disability, are recommended now to have a winter dose. And that expanded eligibility starts from next Monday, 30 May. So, talk to your health provider about your eligibility for that winter dose. And, of course, if you still haven't received your first booster, your third dose, for most people, make sure that you book it ASAP because it's the way to stay well protected as both COVID and flu continue to grow.

Moving on to flu, we've had more that 10,000 cases of flu this season so far, after two years of virtually no flu. So, it's really important that you get your flu shot. Anyone 65 years and over, any Aboriginal person six months or over, and kids under five are able to get their flu vaccine through the National Immunisation Program for free. Other people can also get it privately through most community pharmacies, so your GP or community health centres.  Lots of workplaces are also offering it to their employees. It's not too late to get your flu shot. It's really important that you get it as cases continue to raise. It takes a couple of weeks, two to three weeks, for the vaccine to provide their full protection. And, another reminder, if you're due for your booster for COVID, or for your winter dose for COVID, and you're also due for your flu shot, you can get them both at the same time.  You don't need to wait in between those two before you receive them. If you've had COVID recently, and there's a recommendation to wait three months between COVID and another COVID shot, you can still get your flu shot. You do not have to wait once you've recovered from COVID to then get your flu shot. So, please consider getting your flu shot and make sure that you're up to date as we very rapidly head into winter.

Finally, the other tool that we've got in our toolbox to fight against COVID and other respiratory infections are treatments. And treatments are available, oral treatments are available, for COVID-19. Two main treatments. Paxlovid and Lagevrio, or molnupiravir, are available in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. So, it's actually quite important, especially if you are older or you have chronic conditions, that you have a chat with your doctor now about whether COVID treatments are appropriate for you. Because then, if you contract COVID, you've already had the conversation and you can get a script and get the treatment as soon as possible. Oral treatments for COVID-19 work if taken within five days of symptom onset. So, it's really important that you have access as soon as possible. So, the best way to do so is to pre-have that conversation with your health practitioner so that you can get an understanding of whether oral COVID treatments are recommended for you, and if that's the case, you can get them straightaway, should you become infected. So, yeah, there's many, many things that we can do as winter is upon us. Making sure that we're up to date with our COVID boosters and expanded winter dose eligibility, if you're in those groups. Making sure that you've had your flu shot, and if you're older or you have chronic conditions, have a conversation with your health practitioner to see if COVID oral treatments are for you, if you were to contract COVID.

Thank you for listening, and remember, the latest information is always on

Top 3 questions

  1. Getting your flu vaccine
  2. Making sure you’re up to date with your COVID vaccines
  3. New treatments

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