More Australian adults will be eligible for COVID-19 treatments and a fourth vaccine dose as health authorities seek to curb climbing infection and hospitalisation rates.
From Monday, an additional 7.4 million people will be able to receive a fourth vaccine dose.
People over 50 are recommended to get the extra shot while those over 30 are eligible if they wish.
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Health Minister Mark Butler announced Australians over 70 who test positive to the virus will be able to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from Monday.
Access will also be expanded to people over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people over 30 with two or more risk factors.
Anyone 18 or over and immunocompromised may also be eligible.
Two antivirals are on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme: Lagevrio and Paxlovid. Normally costing more than $1000, they will be available from Monday for $6.80 for concession card holders and about $40 for everyone else.
A new advertising campaign will also be launched to educate Australians about the availability of treatments.
The Plan For COVID campaign encourages people to test at the first sign of symptoms, talk to their doctor without delay for advice and seek treatment options.
Mr Butler said hospitals are bracing for increasing cases as winter progresses and encouraged younger Australians in particular to get their third booster.
About 2.5 million people in their 30s and 40s are yet to have their third booster, he said.
“I really encourage you to get out and get that (third) dose because that’s the big kicker. That’s the thing that really lifts your immunity against severe disease,” Mr Butler told reporters in Adelaide on Sunday.
“The fourth dose will give you a boost and that boost is important right now because of the phase of the pandemic we’re going through, this additional third wave.”
Case numbers are projected to climb as high as they did in January thanks to new variants reinfecting people at larger rates.
“It’s increasingly clear that (variants) are able to evade the immunity that you might have got from having previously had COVID,” Mr Butler said.
“We’re seeing people who might only have had COVID several weeks ago being reinfected.”
More than 31,000 new infections and 24 deaths were reported across Australia on Sunday, a slight dip on the previous 48 hours.
There were 4094 Australians in hospital by the end of the weekend, with increasing influenza rates adding to the pressure on healthcare staff.
© AAP 2022