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Booster intervals cut amid soaring Omicron caseload

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Millions more Australians have become immediately eligible for COVID booster shots after changes in NSW, Victoria and South Australia on Wednesday.

The three states reduced the interval between second and third virus vaccines from four months to three on Wednesday – making more than three million people in NSW, two million in Victoria and 225,000 in SA able to get a third short at state-run vaccination hubs.

It came after another deadly day Australia. There were 32 more COVID-related fatalities in NSW, another 18 in Victoria, 11 in Queensland and six in SA.

Fresh virus infections continued to show more stability, however. NSW had 32,297 on Wednesday, while Victoria reported another 20,769.

Infections are still climbing in Queensland, while there were 3482 in SA.

The shortened timeframe is expected to rapid-charge Australia’s third-dose vaccine program.

“We have the capacity for 250,000 vaccines every week in those hubs. Today’s decision will enable over 3.5 million more people from our state to be eligible for that booster shot,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

“As we are clearly seeing, boosters are key to keeping yourself, your friends and your family safe. We have the capacity available. We’ve seen in our intensive cares the difference vaccination makes.”

South of the Murray, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the change, which had “immediate effect” would help “more people get third-dosed quicker”. Victoria will also conduct a booster blitz this weekend, aiming to administer 60,000 shots.

Mr Andrews flagged a third COVID shot would likely soon be needed to be considered fully vaccinated against the virus.

“I think you’ll see very soon, out of national processes, you’ll see the terminology and the recognition of the third dose be crystal clear,” he said.

“This is not an option, not an add-on, not a ‘good thing to have’. I think we’re close to a change in policy that will simply reflect the fact that in order to be fully protected, you need three doses, not two doses plus an optional extra.”

Wednesday’s change will bring forward booster shots for an estimated 2.45 million people.

“Nothing is more important than doing the iso where you have to, getting a third dose and getting your kids vaccinated through the paediatric program,” he said.

“It’s critical to us getting to a peak and starting to see these numbers come off and getting back to something like normal.”

Victoria’s announcement came as a code brown emergency operation began across all Melbourne hospitals and major regional hospitals in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Albury Wodonga and Traralgon.

Victoria is managing 253,827 active cases, including 1173 people in hospital, an increase of 21 on Tuesday’s figures.

The number of people in intensive care sits at 125 and there are 42 people on ventilation.

But authorities are expecting hospital admissions from the current Omicron wave to skyrocket in the coming weeks.

It prompted a “code brown” declaration from midday on Wednesday.

The order means each hospital will be able to postpone or defer less urgent care, while some staff may be reassigned or recalled from leave.

Staff will only have leave cancelled if “absolutely necessary”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed on Wednesday that a Victorian request for Australian Defence Force personnel to help the state deal with its Omicron crisis had been approved.

Mr Andrews said the initial deployment would be about 20 ADF personnel.

“We’ve got thousands of staff in our hospitals who can’t report to work for the best of reasons. Supermarkets are affected, hospitality, media. Every business, every sector is affected and the Australian Defence Force is not immune from that,” he said

“We’re grateful for the help we’ve been given. We’re grateful for that which is coming very soonm and we won’t hesitate to ask for more.”

-with AAP

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