Keeping abreast of the latest COVID advice

Australia’s approach to COVID-19 has changed and it’s understandable you might be confused or concerned about what this means for you. BCNA is here to help you wade through all of the information and provide the latest, most relevant advice for our network.

The Beacon spoke with Susannah Morris, about some of the questions our members have about COVID-19. She has previously assisted with developing national
frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for people diagnosed with breast cancer and other cancers. You can also find the most up-to-date COVID-19 advice online via My Journey.

WHY HAS AUSTRALIA’S APPROACH TO COVID-19 CHANGED?

Most of the population is now vaccinated and so has greater protection against developing severe illness or dying from COVID-19. There is now less risk from allowing people to move around more freely.

However, for those who have had, or are currently having, cancer treatment COVID-19 is still a concern as they remain potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19, even if they are up-to-date on their vaccinations.

WHAT IS THE LATEST ADVICE ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE BREAST CANCER?

Vaccination continues to be recommended in general because it reduces your risk of severe illness, hospitalisation or death from COVID-19.

To be up-to-date with your COVID vaccine status those aged 16+ need to have a booster dose three months after their two-dose primary course. This is because there is waning immunity after the primary course, and an extra dose increases your protection against symptomatic infection and serious illness.

Some people will need more doses because they have a suppressed or compromised immune system so are likely to have had a weaker immune response to the original two primary doses of the vaccine.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends a third primary dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for severely immunocompromised adults between two to six months after their first two doses. They will also need a booster (fourth) dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to be considered up-to-date.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M IMMUNOCOMPROMISED?

Talk to your clinician about whether they consider you to be immunocompromised based on the type, stage and treatment you are having for your cancer.

For people who are on longer-term breast cancer treatments such as hormone therapies, you are not considered immunocompromised, and ATAGI does not recommend extra doses. However, if you are concerned, talk to your GP.

WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST COVID-19?

Having your vaccinations is your best protection. However, it’s important to remember that even a vaccinated immunocompromised person does not have the same level of protection as someone with a more robust immune system.

It is recommended you continue to follow the general public health messages regarding maintaining safe distances from others, practising good hand hygiene and wearing masks in public spaces. Some people who are more at risk from COVID-19 may choose to reduce their exposure to others even when there are no general restrictions on movement. This is a personal choice.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I TEST POSITIVE TO COVID-19?

Resources are being developed for the broader community to help them prepare for getting COVID-19 and manage it at home. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has developed this guide: Managing COVID-19 at home with assistance from your general practice. The Global Healthy Living Foundation’s COVID-19 self-care guide for people with chronic health conditions includes tips such as making sure you have an adequate supply of medications, masks and sanitiser.

For those with reduced immunity, it is particularly important that your healthcare team knows you are potentially at risk of severe illness. You need to know how to contact your clinicians, particularly your GP, if you test positive, as you may be eligible for treatment.

It is also important that your breast cancer treatment team is notified if you test positive for COVID-19, as this may affect your cancer treatment.

ARE THERE ANY TREATMENTS FOR COVID-19?

Some antiviral drugs have received approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Some are already available in hospital settings, and some will become available for use at home in Australia.

These treatments will be for people who are more at risk of developing a severe illness if they get COVID-19. These drugs must be started within five days of developing COVID-19 symptoms to be effective.

Consider talking to your clinicians about your COVID-19 risk profile at your next planned consultation. This will ensure you know ahead of time if you are likely to belong in the category of people who will be given access to these treatments when they are available. Importantly, these treatments are not an alternative to vaccinations and other protective measures.

I HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS ABOUT COVID-19 – WHO CAN I TALK TO ABOUT THEM?

BCNA is your voice. We can help direct you to the right information, and advocate for changes that benefit our members. Send your questions and concerns to contact@nullbcna.org.au

Issue 90
Autumn 2022