COVID-19 boosters won't be brought forward

Paul Kelly says there's no evidence an earlier booster dose will increase protection against Omicron
Paul Kelly says there's no evidence an earlier booster dose will increase protection against Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots will not be brought forward after health experts determined an earlier third dose provides no additional protection against the new Omicron variant.

The decision comes as the country is set to pass 500,000 COVID top-up shots administered since the third doses were approved for use in Australia.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation determined people will still have to wait six months to receive their booster dose.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there was little evidence bringing forward the booster shot would provide a greater level of protection against the new Omicron variant.

"Is (Omicron) more severe? We don't know yet. But at the moment, there is the evidence that it's mild or the same," he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

"I would stress that it's very early days. It is only in the last few weeks this has been circulating in South Africa and elsewhere, and there is that delay from cases to hospitalisations and deaths."

There have been 13 confirmed cases of Omicron in Australia - 11 in NSW, and one each in the NT and the ACT.

Globally, more than 400 Omicron cases have been identified in 30 countries.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said work was still being done to investigate Omicron.

"The earliest advice, and it is too early to draw a final conclusion, is it may be more transmissible," Mr Hunt told the Seven Network.

"The vaccines are likely, still, to have good protection, but we do need more information and it could be milder."

Mr Hunt said it was likely future variants would also be detected, but less severe than some of the first strains detected.

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," Professor 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.

Meanwhile, the federal government has approved another $540 million for the pandemic response.

This includes extending access to bulk-billed COVID-19 tests, funding for the health department's National Incident Centre and $48 million for medical research.

Money will also go towards the aged care sector and workforce capacity as well as continuing the vaccine rollout in rural and remote areas.

It comes as 87.7 per cent of Australians over 16 have been fully vaccinated, with 92.7 per cent having had a first dose.

There have been 495,000 booster shots administered, and is likely to surpass half a million in the next day.

South Australia recorded four new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with two of them being interstate travellers, while one infection had an unknown source.

The NT recorded its first COVID-19 death on Friday, an unvaccinated woman from a remote Indigenous community.

There have been three remote communities in the Top End where the virus has been detected.

Victoria on Friday recorded 1188 new infections and 11 more deaths.

NSW reported 337 new cases, while there were four infections in the ACT and SA, and one in Queensland.

Australian Associated Press