BENDIGO Health is urging eligible residents to book in their fourth vaccination following a change in vaccine recommendations from Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).
On Thursday the group announced that from July 11, eligibility for a fourth vaccine dose - or second booster - will be expanded to include 7.4 million more people.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended those over 50 receive a second booster.
The group also said those aged between 30 and 49 would be able to receive an additional booster if they chose to, but this was not a formal recommendation.
The decision follows a spike in COVID cases across the country, driven by a more transmissible strain of the Omicron variant, which has led to increased deaths and hospitalisations from the virus.
Previously only those over 65, in aged or disability care, or immunocompromised were able to get a fourth dose.
Bendigo Health chief medical officer Dr Daryl Kroschel said the new sub-variants are a concern for people who have had the virus before as they bring an increased risk of reinfection.
"The Omicron BA4/5 sub-variants of Covid are much more infectious and due to increased community spread, hospitalisations are increasing. We know that vaccinations reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death," he said
"We have supported the idea of extending the eligibility for the fourth booster, which is now recommended for Australians aged over 50.
"General practitioners and pharmacists have been doing a wonderful job offering vaccinations and they will continue to be frontline providers of the vaccination, while we offer a back-up service."
Dr Kroschel also encouraged members of the public to get their flu immunisation given the prevalence and severity of influenza within the community.
Having only just recovered from COVID herself, deputy premier and member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said it was important to continue to promote the message to Victorians about getting vaccinated regardless of age.
"It is important if you haven't had your third dose, to go out and get vaccinated and if you are eligible for the fourth dose...get that fourth dose - COVID has not gone away," she said.
"It is still in our community and we know the best way to protect our community, but also importantly, to help support the healthcare workers who are working under really a challenging situation with both COVID and a tough flu season."
Bendigo lead the nation's initial vaccine rollout, with over half receiving their first dose just weeks after the vaccine was available.
"We saw here in Bendigo how Bendigo is one of the most vaccinated communities in the country," Ms Allan said.
"That's a great credit to our community (and) a great credit to the vaccination teams at the vaccination hub who worked around the clock to get our city and our community vaccinated.
"I'm confident that we'll see people continue to respond as those vaccines become available."
ATAGI said other measures such as increased mask usage and more antiviral treatments being made available would also help with surging infections.
The vaccine group did not extend eligibility for the fourth dose to those under 30 because it is not known whether the benefits outweighed the risks among the population group.
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