Masks come off, Health District issues COVID-19 booster reminder

Western NSW Local Health District experts are urging people to get a COVID 19 booster as soon as possible, to ensure maximum protection as colder months approach.

The reminder came on the eve of the easing of mask restrictions in NSW - with masks no longer required in many indoor settings and phasing out in schools over the next two weeks.

Dr Mel Berry, Medical Director Clinical Quality and Patient Safety, and Emergency Medicine Specialist, and Dr Allan Kerrigan, Paediatrician and Staff Specialist, have worked extensively in our health district's pandemic response.

They have drawn on their experience between the COVID Care in the Community program and frontline work to outline why a booster should not be delayed.

Studies show that the immunity created by COVID-19 vaccines wanes over time. 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 admissions haven't risen at the same rate as case numbers," Dr Berry said.

"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."

GET YOUR BOOSTER: Dr Allan Kerrigan has shared his advice after working in Western NSW Local Health District's pandemic response. Picture: SUPPLIED

GET YOUR BOOSTER: Dr Allan Kerrigan has shared his advice after working in Western NSW Local Health District's pandemic response. Picture: SUPPLIED

Even if you don't think you need that extra protection, says Dr Kerrigan, do your bit to protect those at greater risk.

The Omicron variant is highly-transmissible, and vulnerable communities have a greater risk of serious illness if transmission occurs.

"Boosters may help prevent transmission, and the protection they give helps to keep those around you safe as well," Dr Kerrigan said.

"With higher rates of disadvantage and chronic disease, our District has a large number of people at greater risk of serious illness, which includes the elderly and immunocompromised."

Caring for COVID-19 patients requires significant resources, and can affect other health services and facilities.

"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 pressure of COVID-19," Dr Berry said.

"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 further 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 possible for all patients."

Dr Berry says we are now facing the reality that COVID-19 is "everywhere".

"As vaccination coverage has risen and restrictions 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," Dr Kerrigan said.

"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," Dr Berry.

"We all have the power to help reduce that impact. Taking sensible precautions all the time makes a big difference 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.

"Get your booster to look after your health, your family and the community."

Who's eligible?

Up to February 20, more than 95 per cent of eligible people aged 16 and over in our health district had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 52 per cent of people had received a booster or third dose.

Anyone aged 16 and over who received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at least three months ago is eligible for a booster.