COVID-19 advice for immunocompromised patients

Keeping safe with COVID-19

Being immunocompromised means your immune system does not protect you from infection as well as it should. You may be immunocompromised as a result of a condition you were born with or have developed since, or because of medications you take to treat a condition.

The following will help reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.

Vaccination is the best protection

Get vaccinated

The Australian Government strongly recommends that people who are immunocompromised receive the COVID-19 vaccination. They are safe for immunocompromised individuals.

The standard advice is general members of the community should receive 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster – a total of 3 doses.

If you are immunocompromised you should receive 4 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Your third and fourth dose should be Pfizer or Moderna, with:

  • the third dose given 2 months following your second dose, and
  • a booster (fourth) dose 3 months after your third dose.

Ask your doctor for advice about whether to plan the timing of your vaccine doses around any potential changes to your treatment.

Do not stop taking any regular medications before or after your COVID vaccines unless discussed with your doctor.

Ensure family and household contacts are vaccinated and have received booster shots

COVID-19 boosters reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, with benefits starting within days of receiving the booster shot. People who have received a booster can still get COVID-19, but their infection will be less severe.

Booster doses are available to everyone 16 years and older who have received the primary course of COVID-19 vaccines more than 3 months ago.

Tips to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19

No matter the setting – at home, visiting family or friends, going out to the shops, or even catching public transport – the following tips will reduce your risk of getting COVID-19.

  • Frequently wash your hands and use hand sanitiser. Remember to take some hand santiser with you when you leave home.
  • Avoid touching your face and use hand sanitiser before touching your mask.
  • Always wear a mask when interacting with others and consider using a high-quality medical grade N95 mask. If this is not possible double mask with surgical mask and cloth mask.
  • Improve ventilation and airflow (external site) in indoor areas that you share with other people.
  • Avoid busy public places whenever you can – you are more likely to get COVID-19 in crowded, poorly ventilated enclosed indoor spaces than outdoor areas.
    • Arrange for your grocery shopping to be delivered to your home by the supermarket or a family member or friend.
    • Arrange telehealth medical appointments for routine check-ups or medication prescriptions.
    • Travel in private vehicles with members of your household whenever possible.
    • Ask your employer if you can work from home.

Remember to get tested and seek medical attention if you have had contact with a person who has COVID-19 or if you develop symptoms.

Going out in the community

Sometimes you cannot avoid going to public settings such as a shopping centre or a hospital for a medical appointment. Protect yourself by following these tips:

  • Practise physical distancing and avoid busy areas.
  • Wait outside or in an open, well-ventilated area, when possible.
  • Avoid eating while travelling on public transport. If you are on a long trip, eat once everyone else has put their mask back on.
  • When travelling by car, try to sit next to an open window for improved ventilation.

If you are unable to work from home

  • Talk to your employer about your circumstances so arrangements can be made in your work environment – a letter from your doctor may help.
  • Ensure your workspace allows for appropriate physical distancing and is well ventilated – watch this video (external site) on the importance of ventilation.
Understanding the different types of masks

Face masks reduce the spread of COVID-19 by reducing both the amount:

  • of the virus released into the air by a person infected with COVID-19
  • breathed in by people who are nearby.

The effectiveness of a mask depends on how well it filters virus particles in the air and fits around your nose and mouth.

Fabric masks

Fabric masks are the least effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and are not recommended for people who are immunocompromised.

High quality medical grade respirators (N95 masks)

These are the most effective masks as they:

  • fit snugly around the nose and mouth
  • filter most virus particles from the air
  • stop unfiltered air from leaking around the sides of the mask.

Masks labelled as N95 are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. You can search for registered brands on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

N95 masks are recommended for use by healthcare workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are recommended in current WA Health guidelines (external site) for people who have risk factors for more severe COVID-19, however you may consider upgrading to an N95 respiratory in situations where there is a higher chance of contracting COVID-19.

N95 masks are more expensive than surgical masks, however they may be reusable if they are not damaged or visibly contaminated.

KN95 or KF94 masks

These masks are not regulated in Australia. They may provide better protection than a surgical mask by providing a better seal around the nose and mouth, and better filtration by the mask material.

Safe mask handling

Make sure you use hand sanitiser before taking off your mask, and then immediately again after you remove it.

Medical grade respirators (N95, P2, KF94 masks) are more expensive that surgical masks. You can store a respirator somewhere to dry out (i.e. not in a sealed plastic bag) and use it again a few days later, up to 5 times.

There are videos available online with instructions on how to put on and take off different types of masks, as well as how to reuse them.

Watch how put on and take off different masks:

Staying safe with family and friends

Social gatherings at home

To protect your health, consider sending this information to your guests before all gatherings.

  • Ask anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms (runny nose, cough, fever or unwell) not to attend the gathering.
  • Ensure everyone is fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and that those who are vaccinated have received their booster shot.
  • Once they are available in the community, ask guests to complete a rapid antigen test (RAT) (Healthy WA) in the hours before the gathering. These tests detect COVID-19 before you develop symptoms and can provide a result within 20 minutes.

    Alternatively, a laboratory PCR test taken at a testing clinic could be used. These are highly accurate for detecting an active infection of COVID-19, but do not ensure that the person has not been infected since the test was taken.
  • Ask guests not to attend if they have been to COVID-19 exposure sites (Healthy WA).
  • Encourage everyone to reduce activities that may potentially expose them to the virus, such as public transport and shopping centres, in the 72 hours before the gathering.
  • Encourage guests to use hand sanitiser when they enter.
  • Don’t share cups and utensils or serve finger foods.
  • Gather outside, or if this is not possible, open windows and doors to improve ventilation.
  • Remember, do not greet guests with a kiss or a hand shake – use the elbow greeting if you must.

You can also send your guests these tips to having visitors safely in your home (external site).

About unvaccinated guests in your home

As the Omicron variant is highly contagious, our advice is that you discourage unvaccinated persons from visiting your household.

To reduce your risk of exposure, consider asking all guests to return a negative RAT result a few hours before the event.

If you must spend time with an unvaccinated person, we recommend you do so outside, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.

Previous COVID-19 infection does not offer good protection against re-infection. Studies have shown that previous COVID-19 infection is not very effective in protecting a person against re-infection, particularly with the Omicron variant.

All people should receive COVID-19 vaccinations to prevent spread as well as protect against severe infection with COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.

If you are exposed to COVID-19 in the community

You should follow any public health advice on testing and isolation if you have been exposed to COVID-19.

You should also contact your doctor for further advice on whether any additional testing is recommended. The advice on when to have a COVID-19 test, and which sort of test you should have, is frequently changing and your doctor will be able to give you updated advice.

If you are unwell with COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.

If you have these symptoms, have a COVID-19 test, isolate and contact your doctor as soon as possible (even if you are still waiting for your result).

If you feel short of breath, or feel very unwell in any other way, go to your nearest emergency department.

If you have a positive COVID-19 test

The management of COVID-19 in people who are immunocompromised or have other risk factors for more severe disease may be different to the advice provided to the general community.

Even if you have no or mild symptoms, to make sure you are given the right advice for your situation, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible if you get COVID-19.