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No rush for booster shots amid fears Omicron is loose in community

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The federal government has decided not to shorten the timeframe for fully vaccinated people to get their COVID-19 booster shot, citing a lack of evidence it offers better protection against the Omicron variant.

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The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation had been looking at whether to recommend people get a booster earlier than six months after a second dose.

“Just to quote directly from them, there is no evidence to suggest that an earlier booster dose of the current COVID-19 vaccines will augment the protection against the Omicron variant,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told reporters on Friday.

He was speaking before it was revealed a NSW school student with no link to overseas travellers was among the latest confirmed cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, stoking fears the new strain is circulating in the community.

“NSW Health is concerned the virus may have been acquired in the community as the case has no overseas travel history or links to people with overseas travel history,” a spokesperson said.

Prof Kelly confirmed Australia’s booster shot advice would not change, and stressed Omicron appeared to lead to a milder form of illness despite likely being more transmissible than previous strains.

“I remain cautiously optimistic, but we need further information on vaccine efficacy and treatment efficacy (against Omicron),” he said.

Australian authorities met virtually on Thursday night with their South African counterparts about Omicron which emerged in the region.

“They are seeing a rise in hospitalisations there. But even hospitalisations they are seeing with the Omicron variant are not any more severe than previous,” Kelly said.

He said more information on the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines was needed, but South Africa was unlikely to provide such information given the low rate of vaccination there.

The government announced it will spend another $540 million to bolster its response to the COVID-19 pandemic including in aged care and to extend coverage of pathology fees for tests.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt is not making any guarantees Australia will reopen its border to international students and visa holders in mid-December.

The emergence of Omicron sparked a two-week delay on Australia’s long-awaited international reopening.

“I’m certainly not making any guarantees,” Mr Hunt earlier told Sky News.

“It’s our intention at the end of that period, subject to the science and medical advice, to return to the previous settings.

“It will depend on the international evidence.”

There are nine confirmed infections involving the Omicron variant in Australia and all but one are in NSW.

Victoria on Friday recorded 1188 new infections and 11 more deaths. NSW reported 337 new cases.

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