News in brief: AACR honour for Aussie cancer scientist; Fifth dose of COVID-19 vax for cancer patients; More specialists are using My Health Record


AACR honour for Aussie cancer scientist

Professor Jane Visvader, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has been included in the prestigious 2022 class of Fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Academy.

The honour, announced during the opening ceremony of the ACCR Annual Meeting, recognises her important contribution to breast cancer research.

“For eminent contributions to the fields of breast cancer research and breast cancer stem cell biology, including the seminal discovery of breast stem cells that give rise to normal breast tissue and the identification of specific breast cell populations that exhibit a predisposition to cancer in women harboring BRCA1 gene mutations,” the award said.

Professor Visvander is joint head of the ACRF Cancer Biology and Stem Cells Division at WEHI.

She has received numerous scientific awards including the Royal Society of Victoria Medal for Scientific Excellence (2014), Lemberg Medal (2016), NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Biomedical Award (2016), Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation (2017, joint award), and the Brinker Award for Scientific Excellence (2019, joint award). She was elected to the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2012 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2020.


Fifth dose of COVID-19 vax recommended for cancer patients

A fifth dose winter booster of COVID-19 vaccine is now recommended for severely immunocompromised people, including people with cancer.

The latest advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI)  is that people who are at high risk of COVID-19 should receive an additional booster dose known as the “winter booster dose” four months after the 1st booster dose.

The advice applies to people aged 16 years or older who are severely immunocompromised, such as people with cancer receiving chemotherapy, and also to adults aged 65 years or older, residents of aged care or disability care facilities; and  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or older.

This means that three primary doses are now recommended for people aged five years or older, and two booster doses (five doses total) are recommended for those aged 16 years or older.

“These recommendations for an additional booster dose focus on protecting vulnerable cancer patients among others, against severe disease and reducing the potential burden on the healthcare system over the coming months,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO Cancer Australia.

The rollout of the additional booster dose starts from April 2022, coinciding with the rollout of the 2022 influenza vaccination program.

“An influenza vaccine can be co-administered with the additional booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. However, if the patient with cancer is not yet eligible for their additional booster dose, the influenza vaccine can be given ahead of the additional booster dose,” said Professor Keefe.

Cancer Australia has developed comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to address questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines for people affected by cancer in Australia.


More specialists are using My Health Record

Use of My Health Record by specialists has increased since it became accessible through clinical software in late 2021, according to the Australian Digital Health Agency.

Its latest figures for February 2022 show that 20% of specialists have registered for the MHR and 9% have used it. In comparison 95% of public hospitals and 98% of GPs have used the MHR. While the specialist usage levels are still low they increased by 17% in January 2022, the Agency says, and the number of documents uploaded by specialists and viewed by other healthcare providers increased by 23%.

Public hospital viewing of MHR had doubled in the last year, it noted.

The Agency said the increase likely reflects the increasing proportion of clinical software products that are compatible with the MHR and have the discharge summaries and reports for diagnostic imaging and pathology.

Ongoing funding for the Agency was confirmed in the 2022 Budget, which noted total expenditure of almost $380 million for 2021-2022. The Agency was given a target of increasing provider use of the MHR by 15% a year and a 20% increase in e-prescribing.

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