COVID is surging in Australia – and only 1 in 5 older adults are up to date with their boosters

Australia is currently grappling with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, highlighting the ongoing challenge of a post–pandemic world. Reports indicate that New South Wales is facing its highest levels of COVID-19 infections in a year, while Victoria is grappling with a “double wave” following a surge late last year. 

After almost four years of COVID-19, collecting data isn’t as detailed as before. Even self-testing isn’t as common as it used to be. So, what do we really know about how big this wave is? And, more importantly, are we doing enough to stay safe?

How Reporting Has Changed   

Tracking COVID numbers was more straightforward in the first half of last year. Each state and territory gave us a weekly update with details on cases, hospitalisations, ICU numbers, and deaths.

But things changed in the second half of the year. Some states started reporting less often, and some even stopped their regular updates. For example, Victoria still does weekly reports, while NSW does them every two weeks.

Although they provide varying metrics, it’s evident, especially from hospitalisation data, that both states are in the midst of a COVID wave. Additionally, there are elevated levels of COVID found in wastewater.

On the flip side, Northern Territory Health directs individuals to the Australian government’s Department of Health website for COVID data. However, this central source is not always current, user-friendly, and often lacks detailed breakdowns for individual states and territories, depending on the specific statistic.

The Department of Health’s website does offer some additional data, providing insights into the situation. For instance, as of one month ago, there were 459 active COVID outbreaks in aged care homes. This number has been steadily increasing since September.

Monthly prescriptions for antivirals through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme showed a rapid rise in November, although more recent data on this is not provided.

The New COVID-19 Vaccines

The effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly the updated versions for 2023-2024, remain a key component in the fight against the pandemic. These updated vaccines have been specifically designed to target the most recent and prevalent variants, such as the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant

The updated vaccines are different from the original and earlier booster shots. They are not just additional doses but are formulated to enhance immunity against the currently circulating variants. This approach is similar to how the annual flu vaccine is updated. These vaccines aim to prevent severe disease, hospitalisation and death, particularly in the face of new variants that may differ significantly from the original strain.

As of December 6, only 19% of people aged 65 and over had received a booster shot in the last six months. For those aged 75 and over, this figure is 23%. This cohort is among the most vulnerable to diseases such at COVID-19.

Cause For Concern in 2024?

For those who are vulnerable, especially considering the low uptake of updated booster shots and the limited use of masks, the level of protection is a concern.

On the flip side, for the majority of people, a COVID infection is less likely to be severe. The primary worry for younger individuals is the potential for long COVID, with research indicating an increased risk with each subsequent reinfection.

It’s highly probable that we will experience recurring waves of infections over the next 12 months and beyond. This is primarily attributed to diminishing immunity from prior infection, vaccination, or a combination of both, coupled with the emergence of new subvariants.

Unless a new subvariant leads to more severe illness, we should be able to handle the situation well, preventing our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Nevertheless, there’s room for improvement in protecting our vulnerable population. The current situation, with only one in five older individuals up to date with a booster and over 400 outbreaks in aged care homes, is unacceptable.

For those at higher risk, the standard advice stands: ensure you’re current with your booster shots, wear a P2/N95 mask when in public, and if you contract the virus, consider taking antivirals at the earliest opportunity.

The latest Pfizer and Moderna XBB.1.5 (NEW December 2023) booster vaccines are available at Heathershaw’s. Appointments are available on 24th January and 7th February. Further sessions will be announced once the initial session is filled.

If you are eligible for a booster, please book now online.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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