Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has warned Australians to brace for a third COVID-19 wave in the coming weeks as BA.4 and BA.5 become the dominant COVID strains. Health experts say the strains’ high transmissibility combined with our waning immunity from previous infection and vaccine boosters were already causing numbers to spike and it’s only going to get worse. So what is going on with our fourth dose?

Some people like the elderly or immunocompromised have been eligible for a fourth dose since March  — my 93y.o. grandma got hers months ago. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) brought the age of eligibility down considerably on Thursday, but most of us are still not able to get our next boosters.

Who’s eligible for a fourth dose now?

From July 11, anyone over the age of 30 will be eligible for a fourth dose booster.

Per the ABC, Health Minister Mark Butler said more than 7.4 million people will be eligible for the booster from Monday. ATAGI specifically recommended anyone over 50 get their fourth jab as soon as possible to protect themselves against the emerging BA.4 and BA.5 strains.

Those between 30 and 49 can go and get their next dose if they want to.

Everyone aged over 65 has been recommended to get their fourth jab since March, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over. All residents of aged and disability care facilities are also eligible, as is anyone aged 16 or older with severe immune problems.

ATAGI expanded fourth dose eligibility in May to include people with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe illness and those with a disability who have significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities that increase the risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19.

Until you’re eligible to get your fourth jab, ATAGI found that three doses — especially when combined with prior infection — offer good protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.

When are the rest of us meant to be eligible?

Basically, there are no plans. The latest government update from July 7 said the latest update would likely help those over 30 feel more protected through the colder months.

“ATAGI recognises that some people aged 30 to 49 years would also like to reduce their risk of infection from COVID-19 and therefore may consider a winter booster dose,” the update read.

“While rates of hospitalisation, severe disease, and death from COVID-19 are low in this age group, other factors such as time off work and the risk of long COVID may influence an individual’s personal decision to have a winter booster dose.

“At this moment, ATAGI does not support making the winter booster dose available to healthy adults aged less than 30 years as it is unclear whether the benefits outweigh the risks in this population.”

What’s happening with fourth doses now?

Because ATAGI is the government body that doles out the health advice, federal and state leaders have remained strong with the line that they’ll wait for official health advice before telling anyone what to do.

“That’s not an easy decision to make,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

“I’m very confident ATAGI takes these matters very seriously.”

But ATAGI is ramping up the campaign to get people boosted with their third shots.

“If you haven’t your full three, put it bluntly, you’re crazy,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Tuesday.

“You should go and get them. That’s what is going to make a difference to stopping or at least reducing the chances of you ending up in hospital or ending up possibly dying.”

And while there may be pressure building behind the scenes for expanded fourth dose eligibility, pressure from the public or within the public eye is pretty low. Especially when only about 70 per cent of the population has received a third dose. Honestly, who is still dragging their feet on this?

In the meantime, health experts and the Queensland Government (Qld has the lowest vax rates of all the states and territories) are encouraging us to mask up again and get your damn third vax if you haven’t yet.

Gimme the stats, why is a booster important rn?

A report from May 2022 found BA.4 and BA.5 to be about 36 per cent more infectious than BA.2, the strain that borked us all earlier this year. So there is *some* urgency here.

An Australian study released last week also found that here, in this very country, having a third dose provided 65 per cent greater protection against hospitalisation and death compared to only two doses, with the results especially significant for people aged over 70.

So yes, all signs point to: get your fkn third vax and sign up for your fourth as soon as it’s available.

Image: Getty Images / Jenny Evans