New South Wales has recommended Sydney residents bring their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine forward to six weeks after their first, with doctors and GPs saying it is a “fair compromise” given the state’s outbreak.
On Sunday the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, urged Sydney residents to get their second dose of the vaccine earlier so they could be fully protected and stem the city’s growing outbreak.
Chant said earlier doses would lose only “a bit” of long-term protection, in return for more quickly protecting people from catching the disease, and from death and serious illness.
Australians were initially advised to wait 12 weeks between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca to maximise long-term immunity, but doses between four and 12 weeks are approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi).
Dr Charlotte Hespe, the NSW chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said GPs were ready and willing to bring the doses forward.
She also said that people who were worried about losing longer-term immunity would later receive booster shots to extend their immunity.
“We will definitely will be looking at giving boosters for those who get it early,” she told Guardian Australia. “You will actually have a benefit from coming in early, because we’ll keep you on that list.”
On Sunday, NSW reported a record 77 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19, and the death of a woman in her 90s, who had not been vaccinated. One person in their teens was in intensive care, one person in their 20s was in intensive care and on a ventilator, and there were six people under 25 in hospital.
Chant said that the high-risk environment meant people should bring their second doses forward, especially if they are elderly.
“We know that for the Delta variant you need the two doses,” she said. “So by calling people to get a second dose earlier, we might sacrifice a bit of long-term protection but we’re making sure you’re protected earlier.
“Please talk to your GP,” she said. “At this time, that’s the strategy we’d suggest … We particularly want to focus on the elderly. We know the vaccines are very effective at preventing illness and death and we know the elderly are most vulnerable. So please make that appointment.”
The vice president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Chris Moy, said this was good advice given the situation in NSW.
“The TGA and Atagi have always indicated that it is possible to have it before 12 weeks,” he said. “The calculation is reasonable given the circumstances in Sydney. Even though they may lose a little bit in total efficacy, they are a lot more likely to be protected from severe disease.”
Moy said the earlier window would protect more people, more quickly. “It’s a fair compromise,” he said.
Hespe said that the time between doses had always been dependent on the risk of catching the virus in the community.
“The optimal time frame is 12 weeks but anytime from four to 12 weeks is acceptable if you are in a higher risk zone. NSW Health has assessed the situation, we are now in a higher risk zone.”
Hespe also said GPs would especially roll out more vaccine in the south-west of Sydney, where premier Gladys Berejiklian said more spread was occurring, and which has been the subject of a recent police crackdown.
“We are particularly going to try and target the areas that are much more the hotspots, we will look at how we can help the south west Sydney region,” she said.
“NSW Health and the RACGP will work together to increase the access to AstraZeneca across the board.”
She said people could contact their GP to see if they could bring their dose forward, but GPs’ offices also needed time to organise the logistics of ramping up earlier doses.
“We don’t want to inundate the GPs with phone calls. If possible look at your general practitioner’s website.”