COVID-19, July 2022. Professor Benjamin Cowie

Professor Ben Cowie, Acting Chief Health Officer, Victoria, has stressed the need to reinvigorate and intensify messages given a significant increase in COVID-19 transmissions in the community over the last two weeks.

Addressing members of the multicultural media and other professionals, Professor Cowie said, “The new local public health units (LPHUs), which has been established across Victoria are going to be taking on increasing amounts of responsibility not just for responding to outbreaks of COVID-19 and coordinating our vaccination and  services from the state system perspective but engage more with local communities across the board. And so, this is a big part of what we hope these LPHUs take on.”

Explaining the new sub variants of BA4, BA5, he said they are more infectious than the previous BA2 variant and spread “more quickly to more people who they come into contact with”. 

This has led to an increase in hospitalisations – up by 30 per cent in the last two weeks.

More importantly, these variants are able to escape from the immunity that is present in the community. 

“So they are able to infect someone who has immunity – whether that is from previous infection or from vaccination, or, as is the case with most of us now, from a bit of both,” he said.

But this does not mean vaccines don’t work against these variants. 

“What this means is we need to have as up to date vaccination as we can possibly get to prevent severe illness and to prevent ending up in hospital with these new variants even if we had COVID-19 before, even if we have had two-three doses of vaccine before,” he added.

Professor Cowie said there were now treatments available which could reduce one’s risk of ending up in hospital. 



He recommended exploring the options of oral antivirals which can be prescribed by any general practitioner (GP). 



These are available at pharmacies and can be delivered by the pharmacy for people in isolation. 



The antiviral tablets are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS).



Understanding that many people do not have ready access to GPs, Professor Cowie said making an appointment with one’s GP beforehand  to work through a plan.



“One can also explore community health centres and the GP Respiratory Clinic Network in Victoria funded by the Commonwealth and the state – that can prescribe these drugs for people and also do tests for COVID-19.”



The priority now, said Professor Cowie, is getting the vaccinations. 



“We know that about a third of Victorians, who are eligible for their third dose of vaccine haven’t had it yet. This is a real priority. And  around 45 per cent of those who are eligible for their fourth dose have not had it. So, third and fourth doses save lives, prevent people from ending up in hospital and protect those precious resources we have in our hospital system to look after not just COVID patients but all other health priorities we have got.” 

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