While the initial uptake of the COVID-19 booster program was “encouraging”, the ACT’s health authorities have conceded it appears demand has begun to slow.
ACT Health is conducting further analysis to try and find out exactly why this is happening.
“The extent of this decrease in demand is being analysed,” a government spokesperson said. “ACT Health is also looking to capture community sentiment to better understand the slowing in demand.”
ANU Medical School infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon said it’s most likely a combination of factors.
Firstly, he thinks the messaging around who exactly would benefit most from a booster shot could be much clearer.
“Where boosters are really needed are for people over the ages of 50 and 60,” Professor Collignon said. “The booster can really make a difference for them.”
He wondered if the fact the government is now targeting everyone with the booster campaign means the message may be getting lost.
As the number of positive cases grow in the community, more younger people who catch COVID-19 will likely receive some kind of natural immunity post-infection.
“The reality is that probably gives you a booster,” he explained.
It’s also likely others who catch the virus may be advised to wait for periods of anywhere between a couple of weeks to a couple of months between recovery and receiving a third dose of vaccine. Professor Collignon said a period of waiting could actually make the booster more effective.
According to the ACT Government, at close of business on Sunday 30 January, 165,848 ACT residents had received a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which is around 51 per cent of all those currently eligible for the booster.
Authorities expected a surge in demand for boosters and vaccines for children, hence the re-opening of the Canberra Airport mass vaccination clinic last month.
Together, the airport and the AIS hubs can deliver 32,500 vaccinations a week, which is an increase on the 29,500 delivered each week in September last year.
But this demand hasn’t materialised.
Last week, then acting Minister for Health Chris Steel urged people to come forward and roll up their sleeves for a booster.
“We’ve seen the ACT have the uptake of booster shots across Australia,” Mr Steel said on Friday. “However, this is still lower than we were projecting, and we still do want to see many more people come forward to take up their booster shot – it is the best protection they have against serious disease.”
Mr Steel said anyone not coming forward for a booster no longer had a real excuse given there are so many appointments available.
He said he hoped the program would pick up speed now that people are returning to more usual routines of work and school.
Eligible Canberrans can book in for a booster appointment at either an ACT Government clinic or with their local GP or pharmacy. Appointments are available at government clinics as early as today through MyDHR or by calling 5124 7700 between 7 am and 7 pm each day.