Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, has issued a fresh plea to anyone who has not had either their COVID- 19 booster or flu shot to get the jabs, saying that the double whammy of both illnesses is putting a strain on health systems.
Professor Kelly told Sky News that around a third of the COVID 19 dose had been high in older age groups and among people who were more vulnerable to severe disease, there was still a third of people in Australia who had not had their booster.
We're actually getting good uptake in older age groups, but as a population-wide estimate, about 67 per cent of people who are eligible have had their third dose. He said that we want to be better than that.
We know that a third dose is really important with Omicron circulating, so I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible for a third dose to not hesitate to go and get a third dose. Last month Australia led the world in per-capita COVID 19 infections, with Professor Kelly telling Channel Nine that the rate of infections of the virus and the flu was a clear sign that winter is definitely coming to an end. Professor Kelly put the lower uptake of booster than the first and second doses down to a mix of reasons.
He said that people are less concerned about COVID than they were last year, and that's because of their own lived experience.
Most people who have COVID will have a mild or moderate illness, but there are people who are more at risk of severe disease and they are the ones that absolutely should be getting that maximum protection.
Many people this year have had COVID, so there is a gap that's put in there about when you've had COVID, and when you can get your next dose of vaccine. People who have recently had COVID-19 are recommended to wait at least three months before they get their next vaccine.
Professor Kelly said that while it was already evident that the Omicron variant was capable of re-infecting people who had previously had a previous variant, a new sub-variant that is spreading at the moment on the east coast of Australia is proving to be more transmissible.
There's not seeing a large increase in severe disease and that's due to the vaccine protection that can be boosted with third and fourth doses. The government has spent the week raising awareness about the availability of anti-viral drugs for people over 65 years or those with compromised immune systems who contract COVID - 19.
He said that it was not just COVID 19 people that needed to protect themselves against, because cases of the flu are also on the rise.
Health authorities and experts warned that the winter season would be the first where Australians had to deal with both COVID 19 circulating and a return of a more widespread flu after milder seasons during the first few years of the epidemic.
Professor Kelly said that the combination of the two illnesses was putting a toll on the health system.
He said it was certainly a strain from flu and COVID, a double whammy, if you like, but also absenteeism of staff who are also affected.
We often see flu in winter, but having flu and COVID around does that. Professor Kelly said that people should make sure they get the flu vaccine, especially those in aged care, children under five and pregnant women.