ATAGI recommends change to definition of COVID-19 vaccine status from ‘fully vaccinated’ to ‘up to date’

Australia’s definition of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is set to change, with people aged over 16 years now only considered “up to date” with their vaccinations if they have had their booster shots.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended moving away from the term “fully vaccinated”.

ATAGI’s new advice was endorsed by the national cabinet at a meeting this afternoon, but will not apply to international travellers arriving in Australia.

“A person is ‘up to date’ if they have completed all the doses recommended for their age and individual health needs,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

Under the new rules, if it has been longer than six months since someone’s last vaccine dose and they are eligible for a booster they will now be considered “overdue”.

All Australians aged over 16 years are currently eligible for a booster shot three months after their primary course.

“People under 16 years of age will continue to be considered ‘up to date’ after completing their primary course of vaccination, while severely immunocompromised people aged five years and older [will] require a third primary dose to remain up to date,” Mr Hunt said.

National cabinet agreed it would not mandate booster shots nationally, except for aged care workers.

But states and territories may decide to implement mandates in their own jurisdictions.

ATAGI had flagged it was considering changing the way it refers to COVID vaccinations, saying earlier this month the term “fully vaccinated” could be confusing.

The body’s chair Nigel Crawford told a parliamentary committee that changing the term would bring the COVID-19 vaccination program closer into line with other, like those administered to children.

“We think the best terminology is actually ‘up to date with vaccination status’, rather than ‘fully vaccinated’,” he said.

“That’s a term that we’ve used in the childhood program.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also asked the states and territories to come up with an audit of how prepared each of their health systems is in the lead up to winter and an expected second Omicron wave, paired with the seasonal flu.

The audit will be led by the Department of Health, along with the national health body the AHPPC.

Australia’s eastern states also agreed to work with the federal government on a plan to restart cruise ships, which have been banned from operating since early in the pandemic.

National cabinet will next meet again in March.