Australians could have their COVID-19 booster shot timeline sped up amid concerns over a highly infectious new strain.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly has assured Australians there is "no definite evidence" suggesting vaccines are less effective against the Omicron variant, emanating out of Africa since last week.
Australians fully vaccinated at least six months ago are currently eligible for a booster shot, but Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday revealed the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation was reviewing that time frame.
"We will, as ever, allow them to act independently and continue to follow their advice," he told reporters.
"I wouldn't speculate on any time frames. We've given them an open brief."
But Mr Hunt said the government would "not hesitate" to take further steps, but insisted Australia's high vaccination rate placed it in a "vastly different position" to when the virus arrived in early 2020.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a meeting of national cabinet leaders within 48 hours, having discussed the strain with the National Security Committee over the weekend.
Two passengers who arrived in Sydney on Saturday are confirmed to have been infected with the Omicron variant. NT authorities on Monday also confirmed a man at the Howard Springs facility had contracted the strain.
Professor Kelly said Omicron had quickly become the dominant strain in Africa, a sign it was transmitting "at least as well as Delta". He said Australians should be "alert but not alarmed" as more information came to light.
"Some reports out of South Africa are that it's mostly mild. Other information we have is that hospitalisation rates are increasing. So, we need to get further information there, and we are getting that information," he said.
But with Australia boasting a high vaccine uptake, Professor Kelly moved to head off concern Omicron could neuter the impact of COVID-19 vaccines.
"At the moment, we have no definite evidence, either clinical or laboratory or at the population level, that the vaccines are less effective against this virus. We have no evidence of that," he said.
"Pfizer and Moderna can move quickly, if that was to come to pass, to make a specific vaccine. That's a major advantage."
Professor Kelly described the prospect of a mild strain spreading, potentially increasing immunity against more deadly variants, as his "number one Christmas present".
"That would be certainly a very interesting change, and a positive one. But I just really say very clearly: we're not in that position yet to make that statement, that that's definitely how it's going to end up," he said.
"But [we] hope for the best and plan for other things."
Mr Morrison pushed back against suggestions the national cabinet would sit for an "emergency meeting", saying state and territory leaders were simply being brought "up to speed" on the situation.
The Prime Minister said high vaccination meant Australia was shifting away from focusing on case numbers to managing the virus.
"It's about the severity of the illness that people have and how the public hospital system in the health system is managing and it's managing very strongly," he told Today.
"With this variant, we know it could be more transmissible, but we also know that it's proving to be less severe."
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