Australia shortens wait time for COVID-19 booster doses as Omicron cases rise

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Travellers receive tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pre-departure testing facility, as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant, outside the international terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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CANBERRA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Australia said on Sunday it will shorten the wait time for people to receive a COVID-19 booster following a rise in cases of the Omicron variant.

Australia had previously said it would offer the booster to everyone over 18 who had had their second dose of the vaccine six months earlier.

But with rising cases of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the time interval will be shortened to five months after the second dose.

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"A booster dose five or more months after the second dose will make sure that the protection from the primary course is even stronger and longer lasting and should help prevent spread of the virus," Hunt said in an emailed statement.

"Data from Israel shows boosters supporting reductions in the rate of infection in eligible age groups, severe disease in those aged over 40 years and deaths in those over 60 years."

Australia will use both vaccines from Pfizer (PFE.N) and Moderna (MRNA.O) in its booster programme.

Australia is one of the most vaccinated countries, with about 90% of people over 16 fully inoculated.

Still, Australia on Sunday reported 1,556 cases in the previous 24 hours as infections lingered near the six-week high reported a day earlier.

Australia has recorded about 229,000 COVID-19 infections, well below the toll of other nations, and 2,100 deaths.

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Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Chris Reese and William Mallard

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