As the country grapples with record infections caused by the Omicron variant, Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Friday that the government would cut the wait period for people to obtain their COVID-19 booster shots.
Booster injections will be available beginning January 4 to anyone over the age of 18 who received their second dose four months prior, with the period being lowered to three months by the end of January.
During a press conference in Canberra, Mr Hunt said, “These dates have been established out of an abundance of caution to provide Australians early continuous protection.”
Most states have lobbied the federal government to expand the number of people eligible for boosters in order to halt the flood of Omicron cases. The wait time was cut in half two weeks ago, from six to five months.
After being one of the world’s most COVID-19-vaccinated countries, with more than 90% of adults over the age of 16 receiving two doses, Australia has been trying to increase the deployment of boosters.
Following the advent of the Omicron version, a growing number of countries are decreasing the six-month wait for boosters. This month, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Thailand reduced the gap to three months.
The new action on boosters came as daily infections in Australia reached near-record highs on Friday, leading some states to reintroduce restrictions. The country recorded just over 7,700 new cases, mostly in Victoria and New South Wales, the two most populous states.
Despite the high number of cases, authorities are hoping that the new strain, which appears to be less severe than prior varieties, would not put hospitals under undue strain.
The number of individuals admitted to hospitals is constantly increasing, but it is still far lower than it was during the Delta outbreaks. As of Dec. 20, just over 4% of hospital patients had been infected with Omicron, with only one in intensive care.
The World Health Organization urged wealthier countries earlier this month against stockpiling COVID-19 vaccines for booster doses in the fight against the new Omicron variety, claiming that this would jeopardise supply for poorer countries with low immunisation rates.