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On the Australian Government’s long COVID plans, some questions answered

Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler announced an update on the 2024 National COVID-19 Vaccine Program yesterday, saying the Australian Government has accepted the latest advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Key points to note are:

  • Adults 65 years and over, and those aged 18-64 who are severely immunocompromised, are eligible to receive a booster dose every six months.
  • All other adults are eligible to get a booster dose every 12 months.
  • Children aged 5 to 17 who are severely immunocompromised can receive a single dose this year.
  • Teenagers and children who are in good health do not need a booster dose in 2024, due to the low incidence of severe illness and high level of hybrid immunity amongst this group.

“Vaccination remains the most important measure to protect against the risk of severe disease from COVID-19”, Butler said.

Meanwhile, last month, Croakey published two articles – here and here – raising several questions about the Federal Government’s response to the inquiry into long COVID and repeated COVID infections and the National Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 Plan.

Our survey of nine health leaders and organisations identified concerns about the lack of focus on COVID-19 prevention, and subsequently long COVID, vaccination gaps, funding for the National PASC Plan and the potential for confusion over terminology.

Yesterday we received responses from a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Aged Care to questions arising from our survey, as published below.


Q: Concerns were raised by health experts that there is not enough focus on COVID-19 prevention in the National PASC Plan – what is the Federal Government’s plan for managing COVID-19 and COVID-19 infection prevention in 2024, noting the last plan was released on 13 December 2022?

A: On 20 October 2023, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer declared that COVID-19 is no longer a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance.

This declaration was supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and is in line with the World Health Organization’s determination that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Although COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency, it still remains a serious infectious disease, particularly for older Australians and people with co-morbidities.

The Australian Government continues to balance public health and social measures against the health risks of COVID-19 to ensure our response remains proportionate, whilst protecting those most at risk.

In doing so, Australia has shifted to managing COVID-19 consistent with other common communicable diseases, focusing on prevention, reducing transmission and management of serious illness, hospitalisations and death.

In line with Australia’s government system, states and territories have primary operational responsibility for the implementation of public health measures in their respective jurisdictions. All Australians are encouraged to stay up to date with their local health department’s website for the latest advice.

Australia’s response to COVID-19 continues to be effective, with treatments and vaccines being a critical component of Australia’s national response and an ongoing management strategy to ensure our health system can effectively support COVID-19 patients and also continue to provide the necessary population-level healthcare.

Q: How do you intend on implementing the National PASC Plan – what are the concrete actions, timeline and allocated funds? Will this be announced in the Federal Budget?

A: The National PASC Plan highlights action undertaken by the Australian Government to bolster research capacity, improve the accessibility of healthcare services and to support the management of people with chronic conditions, including people with PASC.

This includes $50 million of funding from the Medical Research Future Fund for research into long COVID announced on 24 April 2023.

The National PASC Plan builds on existing Albanese Government investments to strengthen Medicare, including $6.1 billion committed in the 2023–2024 Budget, a new Medicare rebate for GP consultations longer than 60 minutes, and the largest investment in bulk billing in Medicare history.

Additionally, on 8 June 2023, the Government committed an additional $50 million from MRFF for research to drive innovation in primary care. This will work alongside the investments to strengthen Medicare, and contribute to improvement of primary-care based models of care available to people with long COVID.

Further, the Government has commenced a review and update of the National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions, which will enable all levels of government, as well as health professionals, to deliver a more effective and coordinated national response to chronic conditions.

The update will consider common issues in the management and treatment of chronic conditions to guide sustainable, evidence-based and person-centred multidisciplinary support for Australians living with such conditions. An open public consultation is expected to begin shortly.

Q: Given vaccination is associated with lower risk of developing long COVID, but there is a big gap in vaccination rates between population groups, how do you intend to reduce the vaccination gap to ensure equitable health outcomes across Australia?

A: The Government remains committed to ensuring that effective COVID-19 vaccines are available for all eligible people who choose to receive one.

COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary, but having all recommended doses is strongly encouraged particularly for everyone who is at higher risk of severe health outcomes from COVID-19, including older people and those with complex health needs. The Department of Health and Aged Care recognises that COVID-19 continues to disrupt the lives of Australians, and as such would like to see the vaccination levels as high as possible for those whom vaccination is recommended.

The best protection against severe disease is to keep up to date with vaccinations.

The Department continues to support access to COVID-19 vaccines through primary care pathways, including through:

  • targeted and tailored communications and engagement.
  • data sharing to inform local and targeted programs and solutions.
  • funding for Primary Health Networks that support the development of new vaccination pathways.

Commonwealth funded in-reach vaccination options remain for any population that is unable to locate an appropriate primary care provider.

Ongoing communication efforts provide important public health information to support uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations and encourages people to follow public health advice to help reduce transmission of the virus.

Messages on the importance of boosters, treatments, masks and COVID-19 safe behaviours are delivered regularly through a range of channels including media and social media, stakeholder networks (including aged and disability care), webinars and newsletters. Communication has a particular focus on reaching priority and vulnerable audiences and seeks to connect people with credible information sources.

Q: Concerns have been raised about the terminology used in the National PASC Plan, and that using ‘post-acute sequelae of COVID-19’, particularly when communicating to the general public, may confuse communications about a serious condition. We note the reasons for using PASC but how do you intend to navigate communications to avoid confusion?

A: The Department refers to the term ‘Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19′ rather than long COVID, as PASC encompasses the range of presentations and symptoms that can be experienced after the acute phase of COVID-19 and recognises the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on different systems in the body.

Long COVID is a term commonly used by the community to describe both ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 (symptoms lasting more than four weeks), and PASC (new or ongoing symptoms twelve weeks after being infected with SARS-CoV-2, that are not explained by an alternative diagnosis).

In communications to the public, the Department has introduced the term PASC and thereafter referred to it as it is commonly known in the community i.e. long COVID.

See also:


Read Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on long COVID 

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