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Almost every family in Australia will face COVID-19 in the coming months, Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC told ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program.
"The fact of the matter is we are incredibly under-vaccinated … we’ve got to correct that," Professor Crabb said.
Yesterday, Health Minister Mark Butler accepted advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and approved the use of monovalent vaccines that target sub-variants of the Omicron strain circulating in the community.
The latest XBB.1.5 vaccines will be available to Australians from December as the "preferred" option for use in adults and children over the age of five.
Australia is facing an uptick in COVID-19 cases which has already resulted in increased hospitalisations and excess deaths.
Queensland and South Australia have been identified as the early epicentres of the latest COVID-19 wave and Western Australia has reintroduced masks in some medical settings, according to the ABC.
As we come up to the holiday season, staying safe does not mean cancelling events and isolating at home to avoid infection.
For those who are worried, a well-fitted N95 mask, well-ventilated spaces, and having those around you test frequently is key, Professor Crabb said.
"Get vaccinated, breathe clean air, test, and act on that test. Because there’s nothing else really you can do for COVID," he said.
Despite the evolving nature of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) rapid antigen tests should still be used to keep others safe.
"The rapid antigen tests (RATs) are based on detecting a protein inside the virus, not on the surface of the virus, and that's a very stable protein that doesn't mutate like the surface protein. So RATs still work," he said.
"I would recommend people swab their throat and their nose … that seems to be making quite a bit of difference to RAT positivity."
Simply relying on a hybrid immunity strategy — by protecting vulnerable people and building immunity through infection in children and healthy adults — is "flawed," Professor Crabb said, emphasising the importance of having layers of protection from COVID-19.
"We can't bubble wrap various places with extra vulnerability, you have to lower COVID in general," he said.
"We have to all do the heavy lifting for everyone in our community.
"Everyone wants to protect the most vulnerable people [but] the problem is, who are they?
"We know people in aged care facilities are vulnerable but identifying who's most vulnerable to acute disease is quite hard [and] identifying who's most vulnerable to long COVID is impossible."
Professor Crabb said we no longer have to choose between restrictions or freedoms.
"It's no longer like that, we can deal with COVID," he said.
"We want everyone to participate in society and we need lower levels [of COVID] for that."
Listen to Professor Crabb on ABC Radio National here.