The increase in ‘flu, respiratory viruses and COVID has affected every business and the medical centre is no exception. We have had a number of staff off sick for the past few weeks and the suspicion is that that there won’t be a significant change in this for quite awhile. Winter is upon us…
As we are now (finally) hearing in the news, COVID certainly hasn’t gone away. It has ‘morphed’ again and the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 is now dominant in Victoria. It is highly infectious. In fact, it has been estimated that it has the same infectivity as measles, which until now was about the most infectious virus we have known. We are in the midst of another ‘wave’.
Case and hospitalisation trends are increasing in Victoria. This is in line with similar patterns globally and in other Australian jurisdictions which have seen a significant rise in the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 in recent weeks.
The Department of Health anticipates a further increase in cases – including reinfections – and hospital admissions and deaths in the coming weeks due to BA.4/BA.5. This is because the strain has a greater ability than BA.2, the previous Omicron strain, to evade immunity provided by vaccination and earlier COVID-19 infection.
If there is good news it is that there is no evidence at this stage that the BA.4/BA.5 sub-lineages causes more severe disease, although this is being monitored.
As a result of the above, ATAGI has updated its recommendations on winter dose of COVID-19 vaccine:
- The updated recommendations are:
- Adults aged 50 to 64 years are now recommended to receive a winter booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Adults aged 30 to 49 years can elect to receive a winter booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, however the benefit for people in this age group is less certain.
- The interval recommended between the first booster dose (or recent COVID-19 infection) and a winter booster dose is now 3 months.
To book a winter dose, ring the medical centre. As mentioned above, it may not stop you getting COVID, but it still is very effective in limiting its damaging potential.
It remains to be seen if mask wearing will become again more mandatory. I suspect so, at least in a greater number of situations. The wearing of masks and measures to make indoor air safer does have a significant impact in reducing transmission of the BA.4/5 sub-variants. So masks continue to be strongly recommended in shared indoor settings, if you can’t physically distance or you are with those more vulnerable to COVID-19. Improving ventilation by opening doors and windows, using fans or purifiers, and gathering outside where possible will all help too.
We want to remind readers that COVID-19 medicines are available for eligible patients at increased risk of severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19. These antiviral medications if taken early (within 5 days of symptoms), reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, make the need for hospitalisation less likely, and reduce the risk of loss of life from COVID-19. If you are eligible for early treatment (and recently the prescribing restrictions of these have been loosened) and you develop symptoms, get tested as soon as you can through the Respiratory clinic so you can get access to medicines, which are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The message is come early in your illness.
And I will leave you with this. In case you have seen the claims that ‘flu vaccination may increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, which have been circulating on social media (!), just saying that there is no evidence to support these claims. If you haven’t had a ‘flu shot yet, they are still available and recommended. The predictions of this year being a bad ‘flu season has certainly come to pass.
Dr Phil Worboys (with plenty of help from health.vic.gov.au website)