No change to Australian COVID-19 booster vaccines in response to Omicron variant

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CANBERRA, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Australia's peak immunization body has advised against changes to the country's COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout in response to the Omicron variant.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Paul Kelly said on Friday that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has warned the government against shortening the interval between second and third COVID-19 vaccines for the general population.

Australians aged 18 and over are currently eligible to receive a booster shot six months after their second dose.

However, ATAGI did recommend that some severely immunocompromised Australians can receive a booster jab two months after their second dose.

Kelly said the expert group reviewed evidence from the world on the Omicron variant before making its decision.

"And just a quote directly from them, there is no evidence to suggest at the moment that an earlier booster dose of the current COVID-19 vaccines will augment the protection against the Omicron variant," he told reporters in Canberra.

According to him, one existing difference is in relation to the immunosuppressed population, where that is seen as a third dose, and that can be given at a minimum of two months after the second dose.

"But for the general population, the advice from ATAGI remains a six-month gap between that second dose and the booster program. So in summary, no change," he said.

On Friday, Australia reported more than 1,500 new locally-acquired COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths as the country continues to battle the third wave of infections.

The majority of new cases were in Victoria, the country's second-most populous state with Melbourne as the capital city, where 1,188 cases and 11 deaths were reported.

A 78-year-old woman from the remote community of Binjari has become the first person to die with COVID-19 in the Northern Territory (NT), ending its run as the only state or territory without a single coronavirus death.

"This is the news we never wanted to give," NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner told reporters on Friday. "It is very unlikely to be the last time we have to deliver such news."

The number of confirmed Omicron cases in Australia has increased to 10, nine of which have been in New South Wales (NSW).

Authorities have expressed concerns that the latest case -- a school student who has not traveled overseas, was transmitted locally.

As of Thursday, 92.7 percent of Australians aged 16 and over had received one vaccine dose and 87.7 percent had their second dose, according to the Department of Health. Enditem

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