Australian health ministers have approved new vaccines against COVID-19, stating that they offer “modest improved protection” against circulating strains. Australia has announced the availability of new COVID-19 vaccines targeting the XBB.1.5 variant of Omicron, also known as the Kraken. The monovalent vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were approved on Nov. 20 based on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Federal Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed that the new vaccines have shown “modest improved protection” against the COVID-19 strains circulating in the community, with Pfizer’s version available for those aged five and older and Moderna’s for those aged 12 and older. Only a quarter of Australians have received their 2023 booster shots amid a rise in cases. ATAGI has stated that individuals who have already received their 2023 COVID-19 vaccinations do not need additional doses, as they remain well protected against severe disease.
ATAGI will continue to assess evidence on COVID-19 vaccines, infection rates, and the risk of severe disease, with further recommendations expected in early 2024. Providers can order the new Kraken vaccine, with doses available from Dec. 11, 2023.
Masks mandates have been reintroduced in Western Australia (WA) due to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases since early September. High-risk clinical areas in public hospitals are required to wear masks, including wards treating vulnerable patients, intensive care, haematology, oncology, organ transplant, and renal dialysis units.
WA Chief Health Officer Dr. Andy Robertson advised the public to stay home if they are sick and not visit high-risk settings such as aged care facilities and hospitals if they have cold or flu symptoms. He also encouraged the public to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings or where physical distancing is not possible and to get a booster COVID-19 vaccination. On the other hand, Queensland health authorities have resisted calls to recommend the public start wearing masks again, but indicated that people were free to do so. Chief Health Officer (CHO) John Gerrard warned against overstating the risk of the latest COVID wave, noting “the public health emergency is over.” Variants of Omicron, including dominant strains EG.5 (Eris) and BA.2.86 (Pirola), are circulating in the community, along with a new variant dubbed XCH. Dr. Gerrard stated that the latest waves were less severe and emphasized the need for ongoing management of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. He also noted that the public health emergency declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) ended on May 5.