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A-Z of Public Health Topics

COVID-19

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without needing any medical assistance. Older people, people with pre-existing conditions and people with compromised immunity are at a higher risk of experiencing severe illness.

COVID-19 remains an unwelcome part of our lives as our immunity from both infection and vaccination wanes with time and COVID-19 continues to spread. Community transmission of COVID-19 remains high across Victoria, with hospitalisations and intensive care admissions.

Immunisation and prevention measures are the best ways we can reduce COVID-19 infections, severe illness and deaths.

Anyone can catch COVID-19, but it is especially important that those at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are protected to reduce the chance of severe infection, hospitalisation and death. This includes:

  • people aged over 65 years
  • those with a disability or medical condition
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

There are things we can all do to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the wider community from getting COVID-19. 

Steps to stay protected

All people aged over six months are who have never received a COVID-19 vaccine are recommended to receive a primary course of COVID-19 vaccine. See your doctor if this applies to you as the number of doses in a primary course varies from 1 to 3, depending on your age and risk profile.

For the majority of people who have received their primary course, so you can understand when you should ask for an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones, the current guidance from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is below.

Recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine booster doses by age group and risk: last updated 5 March 2024

  • The Western Public Health Unit (WPHU) encourages all adults aged 65 years and over, and those aged 18–64 who are severely immunocompromised to receive a booster dose every 6 months.
  • WPHU encourages all adults aged 18-64 who are not immunocompromised to receive a vaccine every 12 months.

A high-quality and well-fitted mask can protect you and others from the virus.

If you have symptoms, take a rapid antigen test (RAT).  At the very beginning of a COVID infection, a negative RAT test may not always rule out COVID-19 infection – consider retesting in subsequent days.

If you have COVID-19, you should stay at home for at least five days from when your illness started, and until you have no symptoms. Speak to your GP if symptoms worsen.

If you are at risk of falling very sick, you may be eligible for COVID-19 antiviral medicines. All adults 70 and older, and many adults aged 50 years or older with significant medical conditions, are eligible to receive COVID-19 antiviral medicines, which can decrease your risk of needing to go to hospital. You must take these within 5 days of developing symptoms.

Open windows and doors when you can – it reduces the spread of the virus.

Useful resources for primary care practitioners

The Victorian COVID-19 therapies PBS prescriber helpline is available 7 days a week 8am to 5pm on (03) 8290 3801.

The Victorian Department of Health has published the fact sheet: COVID-19 medications for at risk people who do not require oxygen, which includes information about:

  • Eligibility of criteria for antiviral therapies
  • Clinical decision making
  • Prescribing considerations
  • Referral information for access to early therapies.

Information for health professionals and partners