COVID-19 – Omicron update from CMO Professor Paul Kelly – 13 December 2021

An update from Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, about the new Omicron variant of concern.


Morning everyone. I'm here in Canberra on Ngunnawal and Ngambri land. I will pay my respects the traditional owners of this land, elders past, present and emerging. Also, to those wherever you are listening from. Thanks for listening and thanks for bringing those questions through social media to us. I will address those today. I am here with Ramas, my trusty interpreter, thank you Ramas.

A lot of things to talk about in terms of Omicron. This is the number one topic we are finding on our social media and a lot of interest there. Three quick questions in relation to that. Firstly, as many of you would have seen over the weekend there was an announcement about booster shots. Bringing those forward from six months after the second dose to five months. This is a very important message and my key message to everyone who is watching today is if you are in that five months since your second dose, please do not hesitate to make an appointment. Go and see your GP, go into a pharmacy, go to one of the state clinics all of the other points of presence we have around Australia, well over 8500 of those. Get it done before Christmas if you can and if you are in that five months since your second dose, please do not hesitate to go. The reason is, is information we are very closely following all the way around the world about what we know about this Omicron variant. Unfortunately, what is very clear now is that there is a waning of the effectiveness of the vaccine, the first two doses against transmission of the virus, so you can come down with that infection. It seems to be at the moment very mild, but you can get that and pass it on to others. The good news is that booster shots do appear to increase that immunity very rapidly again, back to where we were with the Delta virus. So, that message again, if you are five months or more since your second shot of whichever vaccine you have had, go ahead and get that booster. You can get either the Pfizer or the Moderna mRNA vaccine right now. The next question to talk about is are there particular risk groups that are more likely to get Omicron? At this stage that isn't the case. Most of the cases we have seen here in Australia and around the world have been young, otherwise fit people. We do know it transmits the same as we have known with previous versions of this virus quite readily, particularly in indoor settings and where people are congregating. We have seen that in a nightclub in Newcastle in the last couple of days, we have seen that in a party boat on Sydney Harbour, Christmas party, various other settings like that around the world. It transmits easily from person to person. We are not seeing any severe disease yet. We don't know yet whether there are particular risk groups for severe disease. We have seen a case now in a worker in a aged care facility in Australia, so we will be watching that very closely. What is Australia doing to understand more about this Omicron variant? Well we are doing a lot. We are every day meeting in the Department of Health in our National Incidence Centre here. Looking at whatever information has come overnight from international sources. Whether that is through media, through our scientific links, through published papers, through information from health departments around the world about what we are seeing in Omicron. Here in Australia of course we are closely following the cases as they are diagnosed to make sure we know what happens to them. In our laboratories we are doing some of that work that I talked about last week in terms of the neutralisation tests to see whether the antibodies are working. We are finding exactly the same as other places around the world in relation to that. The antibodies are not stimulated as much by the vaccine against the Omicron and so we know that at least that transmission can occur. At this stage here and elsewhere we still do not have any information about the vaccine effectiveness against severe disease. That is a crucial point where looking for very closely and I'm sure I will have more to say about that in the coming week.

Thank you so much for listening, thank you Ramas and enjoy your day.

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