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Community & Business

15 March, 2022

Perks of being boosted

Booster vaccines are all the talk at the moment – but why are they so important?

By Emily Middleton

Western NSW local health district (WNSWLHD) experts have broken down the reasons why boosters should be administered as soon as possible, and how to ensure ultimate protection.

Dr Mel Berry, medical director clinical quality and patient safety, and emergency medicine specialist, and Dr Allan Kerrigan, paediatrician and staff specialist, explained waning immunity. Studies show that the immunity created by COVID-19 vaccines wanes over time, and that boosters strengthen your immune system, helping to maintain a higher level of protection. For immunocompromised, boosters and third doses build a response similar to those not immunosuppressed.

“We’ve seen how effective vaccinations have been in protecting people from serious illness. Hospital admis- sions haven’t risen at the same rate as case numbers,” said Dr Berry.

“But that protection reduces over time and we’re now entering a time of year when people typically get sick more often. Boosters give the immune system a jump start, so you have an added layer of protection.

“It’s a simple equation, get your booster and your chances of getting seriously ill are significantly reduced.”

Some of the state’s most vulnerable communities are in western NSW, and vulnerable communities have a greater risk of serious illness if transmission occurs. Dr Kerrigan explained that the omicron variant is highly transmissible and can spread quickly through communi- ties.

“Boosters may help prevent transmission, and the protection they give helps to keep those around you safe as well,” said Dr Kerrigan. “With higher rates of disad- vantage and chronic disease, our district has a large number of people at greater risk of serious illness, which includes the elderly and immunocompromised. We all know someone at greater risk, so even if you don’t think you need that extra protection at least do your bit to help protect them.”

Another reason for the booster’s immediacy, is to reduce the impact on health facilities, and protect front- line staff. Caring for COVID-19 patients requires sig- nificant, additional resources, and that impact can affect

other services and operation of facilities. As well as this, the pressure on workforce is increased when staff are required to isolate.” We need our hospitals and our staff available to provide the best care possible for all patients, our ability to do that is impacted by the pres- sure of COVID-19,” said Dr Berry.

“Even though the number of people in our hospitals with COVID-19 may not seem a lot, the additional resources needed to care for every single one of them are significant. The best example of the impact that can have on services is the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery earlier this year. That pressure is increased fur- ther when our staff members are impacted, and at one point we had more than 100 staff in isolation.

“The fact is that higher vaccination and booster rates means less people in hospital with COVID-19. That means less impact on our facilities and our frontline staff, which makes it easier to provide the best care pos- sible for all patients.”

The expert’s bottom line is that COVID-19 is every- where. As vaccination coverage has risen and restric- tions have eased, it has become difficult to measure the true spread. “A large number of cases are confirmed, but it’s inevitable there’s many unidentified cases too,” said Dr Kerrigan.

“That’s why, now more than ever, we need to realise our individual responsibility. We understand how often people have heard about individual responsibility and we understand COVID-fatigue is a very real thing. But we simply cannot afford to be complacent now. The impact COVID-19 is still having on people every day is heartbreaking,” said Dr Berry.

“We all have the power to help reduce that impact. Taking sensible precautions all the time makes a big dif- ference, but vaccination and boosters are our best tool to protect everyone.

“In the coming months we’ll see influenza rear its head too. So, when you think about your COVID-19 booster, think about other vaccinations you need and when you can have them.

“We have asked so much of everyone so far and we really appreciate how our communities have played their part. We can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to talk about COVID-19, but until that comes, we need to keep working together to fight COVID-19.” 

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