Omicron triggers earlier booster shots

Booster shots have been fast-tracked to five months after the second dose to counter waning immunity to the Omicron variant, as Moderna gets approval to be used as a booster.

What we know:

  • Australians can now get a Moderna or a Pfizer booster shot five months after their second vaccination, rather than six (ABC); 
  • New laboratory data indicates immunity against Omicron begins to decline earlier than thought (Ars Technica); 
  • The Moderna booster dosage is half the usual dose and will be given at pharmacies and clinics, subject to availability;
  • There is no need for a booster shot to match initial vaccines – it is fine to go from AstraZeneca to Moderna, for instance;
  • A growing body of evidence suggests Omicron is  more contagious but also milder than other variants, however more data is needed (The Independent); 
  • Vaccines will able to be quickly updated if needed to target Omicron, thanks to Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó’s breakthrough invention of mRNA vaccine platforms (The Saturday Paper); 
  • NSW has now recorded 55 cases of Omicron, while Victoria has recorded three (Nine); 
  • Thousands of people protested across the country on the weekend against vaccine mandates (ABC).
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Thousands line up to enter Queensland

Queensland today reopens its border for the first time in months, while WA is set to announce its timetable for easing restrictions.

In Queensland:

  • The border reopened for the first time in 229 days for fully vaccinated travellers from Covid-19 hotspots who can provide a negative Covid-19 test  taken within 72 hours prior to arrival (7News); 
  • Tens of thousands of people are expected to travel through the border, with about 500 police inspecting credentials at checkpoints;
  • People stranded across the border for months waited in car parks nearby overnight to be among the first to cross (The Courier Mail); 
  • The reopening was triggered by Queensland reaching the 80% double dose vaccination milestone last week.

In WA:

  • Premier Mark McGowan will today announce the date that borders reopen to the rest of the country (The West Australian); 
  • Travel restrictions are expected to ease in seven or eight weeks time;
  • From today, arrivals from Queensland must self-quarantine for 14 days, meaning WA is closed to everywhere on the planet bar Tasmania.
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Crackdown on cosmetic surgeons

Federal and state governments have launched a review into who can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, and upping penalties for deceptive advertising and social media abuse.

The states and Commonwealth released a 108-page proposal regarding the use of the title “surgeon” and “cosmetic surgeon” (The Age). 

It will be open for public consultation until April 1, 2022, with the public invited to anonymously provide feedback about their experiences.

Under the current law, anyone with a basic medical degree can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, even though they aren’t registered or trained as specialist surgeons.

The planned overhaul would see breaches of the law for advertising offences increase to $60,000 for an individual and $120,000 for a body corporate.

Health ministers are also proposing to ban misleading testimonials, offering a gift or inducement without stating the terms and conditions, or encouraging the unnecessary use of health services.

It follows revelations of disturbing practices at a network of clinics run by celebrity cosmetic surgeon Daniel Lanzer, including allegations of hygiene and safety breaches and botched surgeries that left patients in extreme pain.

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Cheap home defibrillator ready to go

An Australian inventor has developed the world’s first personal defibrillator, after his wife nearly died of cardiac arrest.

Donovan Casey noticed his wife making unusual clucking noises, prompting him to call an ambulance and perform CPR until paramedics arrived (The New Daily). 

Casey’s wife survived, but the ordeal inspired him to develop a cheap, small defibrillator called CellAED.

Sudden cardiac arrest kills between seven and nine million people every year, with the chance of revival dropping 10% for every minute without defibrillation.

“Sudden cardiac arrest has a survival rate of less than 1% – this is because it kills so quickly and because most witnesses to a sudden cardiac arrest don’t have the skills or access to an AED to help save a life,” said Casey.

His device is designed to detect a shockable heart rhythm and deliver shocks when needed to keep a patient’s heart beating before first responders arrive.

The unit will soon be available to the Australian public for use in their homes for one-tenth of the cost of currently available automated external defibrillators.

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Tornadoes kill 100 in US

More than 100 people are feared dead after dozens of tornadoes tore through the Midwest and southern US.

More than 80 people died in Kentucky alone, many of them workers at a candle factory in Mayfield that collapsed (Phys.org). 

At least six died in an Amazon warehouse in Illinois where they were on the night shift processing orders ahead of Christmas.

A storm system brought cold air to areas experiencing near record-breaking heat, creating unstable atmospheric conditions ripe for tornadoes (The Conversation). 

The largest tornado among the swarm travelled more than 320km – one of the longest on record.

They included at least four EF-3 category tornadoes with wind speeds up to 250km/h.

US President Joe Biden has asked the US environmental protection agency to investigate what role the climate crisis played in the deadly tornadoes (The Guardian). 

Emergency crews are searching through the rubble for survivors.

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The fees I’m paying for Monash are coming from my family's life savings ... the increase is like a slap to the face.

Sadman Arafat feels the sting of Monash University raising fees on international students, even though border restrictions have meant he has been unable to attend a single lecture in person (SBS).

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Postscript: Italian police catch man who pulled emergency brakes on 100 trains

The serial offender would wait until the train had picked up speed before striking unobserved —  often in tunnels — then mingling with the crowd ... police were able to track down the individual whose actions, it seems, were not limited to trains. Italian news agency ANSA reports that in the spring he managed to get a plane to turn around after it had taken off from Orio al Serio airport in Bergamo. The man was reportedly intoxicated and began to shout when he couldn’t find an emergency brake on the plane, “perhaps convinced he was on a train”, ANSA reports, leading the pilot to change course and return to Bergamo (Wanted in Rome).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.