Hello, my name is Professor Michael Kidd. I'm Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Government Department of Health. I'm speaking to you today from Ngunnawal country and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands where I am today. My shout out today is to everybody currently affected by the flooding, which is occurring once again in the region of Lismore and surrounding areas in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland. Our hearts go out to those who are being affected, particularly those being affected for a second time from these devastating floods. Please, if you are affected by the floods, please reach out for support on the health.gov.au website, we have details of supports which are available for people. And if you know people in that area, please reach out and offer your support and a friendly word and someone who people who are affected can talk to. There are also practical ways to assist through donations of money to relief organisations supporting our fellow Australians affected by the floods. So, over the past week, you may have seen a new advertising campaign on television or heard new ads on the radio about encouraging people to get their booster COVID-19 vaccine. And there's been lots of questions about boosters which have been coming through. So, I'm going to answer your top three questions today about the importance of booster vaccines for COVID-19.
So, your first question is, "Our lives are starting to get back to normal. Everyone is talking about living with COVID. So why should I be rushing to get a booster?" Well, the reasons that our lives are starting to get back to normal in many ways is because of the extraordinary response by the people of Australia to the national COVID-19 vaccination program. More than 95% of people aged 16 years and above in Australia have now received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and more than 13 million people aged 16 years and above have received a third dose, a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And of course, we also have many people between the ages of five and 15 who have been vaccinated to protect against COVID-19 as well. Vaccination protects us as individuals, but it also protects our family and our other loved ones, and it contributes towards protecting everybody in our society. And this is why, with these very high rates of vaccination, Australia is now one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. We have protected our population from serious illness and the risk of death from COVID-19. And the boosters help to ensure that that protection continues. It ensures that the protection you received from the first two doses is more long lasting. Also with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the sub-variants of Omicron, which are starting to spread across Australia, what we've found is that two doses is not enough for everybody. Some people are still becoming seriously unwell even if they've had two doses of a vaccine, and the booster dose provides additional protection and additional support. Currently, in Australia, we have over 420,000 people currently, actively, infected with COVID-19. But the numbers of people in hospital are much, much lower than we've seen in the previous two years. We now have around 2000 people in hospital, a little over 100 people in intensive care units. So 99.6% of people being infected with COVID-19 and reporting that infection are not ending up in hospital. And this means that we're protecting many, many people in our community from this infection.
The second question that you asked is, "Looking at the case numbers there as high as they've ever been, does this show that vaccination does not prevent infection or transmission with the new variants of COVID-19?" So you're quite right. In Australia, we have had more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 reported since the start of the pandemic, and more than 3.6 million of those cases have occurred since the 1st of January this year. But what we've also seen, as I mentioned before, is a much lower rate of people becoming seriously unwell and being hospitalised with COVID-19. So, the vaccines are working. The Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants of COVID-19, and it can still cause serious disease and the risk of death in people who are not vaccinated,or who are not up to date with their vaccination. So, this reinforces the importance of that booster vaccine. So, please, if you have not yet completed your initial two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, please arrange to get vaccinated. If it's now four months or more since you had your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and you haven't yet had a booster, please arrange to get your booster. Even if you've been infected with COVID-19, it's still important to get the booster vaccine because, as we know, immunity from infection with COVID-19 does wane. It reduces over time. And you maybe at risk of being infected once again.
The third question is, "I'm hearing that the booster side effects can sometimes be worse than actually having COVID. Is this true?" And it's a fair question because, as we know, some people who are infected with COVID-19 will have no symptoms at all. Many people will have mild symptoms of runny nose, dry cough, sore throat. But some people will become very significantly unwell. Some people will develop long COVID symptoms. And this can put them at risk of being unwell for many, many months after they've recovered from their initial infection. So, COVID-19, even with the Omicron variant, is still a nasty virus with the potential for causing serious health consequences. The side effects from the vaccines are usually mild and very self-limiting. They usually last for a day or two, and they can, of course, be a sore arm, fever, aches and pains, feeling quite second-hand for a day or two, but those symptoms pass very quickly. So, the balance is there between these mild side effects from the vaccines, including from the boosters, balancing against the risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19. I've had my booster. I hope that you get your booster as well to provide you with that added protection. And please encourage your loved ones, your friends, your family, your colleagues at work to get vaccinated as well. Vaccination is helping us all to return a degree of normality into our daily lives. And I hope that you get your booster and get vaccinated and stay up to date. We also heard just last week from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation about a second booster dose, called a winter dose, for some people who are at increased risk. And we'll be sharing more information about the winter dose with you as well. And of course, the vaccination program for influenza commences next Monday. And I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated as well against influenza to protect you from a possible outbreak of influenza this winter. More details on the Department of Health website, health.gov.au.
And that's our Top Three for this week. Thank you for joining me and have a great week.
- Life is getting back to normal. Everyone is talking about ‘living with COVID’. So why should I be rushing to get a booster?
- Look at the case numbers – they’re as high as they have ever been. This proves that vaccination does not prevent infection or transmission against the new variants…
- I’ve heard that the booster side effects are worse than having COVID. Is this true?