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Protection for primary years with vax rollout before school resumes

James Campbell and Clare Armstrong, December 6, 2021 7:00PM News Corp Australia

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A child, 11, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Montreal, Canada. TGA approval has now been granted in Australia to administer a reduced dose to children aged five to 11, with the rollout expected to begin 10 January, 2022. Picture: AFP media_cameraA child, 11, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Montreal, Canada. TGA approval has now been granted in Australia to administer a reduced dose to children aged five to 11, with the rollout expected to begin 10 January, 2022. Picture: AFP

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Primary school kids are on track to receive their first jabs by the time they return to school next year, with the Pfizer vaccine cleared for use in children in Australia.

As authorities around the world wait for data on the Omicron variant*, the Therapeutic* Goods Administration (TGA) on Sunday announced it has provisionally* approved Pfizer’s vaccine as safe to be given to children aged five to 11.

The youngsters will receive a dose a third of the size of that given to children over 12.

media_cameraA nurse holds the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Montreal, Canada, where children have been approved for vaccination since November. Australian children aged five to 11 will have to wait until January. Picture: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison there was nothing more important than the health of our children.

“That’s why we made sure these vaccines got the rigorous* review of Australia’s top health experts,” he said.

Mr Morrison said the vaccines will help keep both young and old Australians safe.

“This will mean peace of mind for parents and teachers knowing children are protected,” he said.

“Ultimately, the more Australians who get vaccinated, the more we can secure our recovery from this pandemic too with less disruption to schooling and home life.”

media_cameraA healthcare worker high-fives a child who just received the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Montreal, Canada, on November 24 – the first day that children there were allowed to receive the vaccine designed for ages five to 11 years old. Picture: AFP

TGA approval is the first and most significant hurdle the vaccine needs to leap before it can be rolled out across the country.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will now consider which groups should receive the vaccine.

Pfizer has agreed to supply enough vaccine for every Australian aged five to 11, with the first shipment of the smaller doses due to arrive in early January.

The federal government expects to begin rolling out the vaccine to 2.3 million primary school aged children from 10 January next year in time for the return to school.

In the 11 weeks since the vaccine was approved for their use, more than three quarters of kids aged 12-15 have had one dose of vaccine, with 67.5 per cent having had both jabs.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the approval was “the first of four critical steps before vaccinations begin.”

media_cameraA child, 7, is vaccinated in Montreal, Canada, in November. Nobody enjoys a needle in the arm, but it’s all over in a jiffy. Picture: AFP

Following the advice from ATAGI, Mr Hunt said there would also need to be training provided to those administering the vaccine if ATAGI required it, as well as batch testing of shipments to ensure the rigorous standards of all vaccine supplies.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will act on medical advice to ensure all those who wish to receive a vaccine will have the opportunity to do so, wherever they are across Australia,” he said.

“Australia is well prepared for any scenario recommended by ATAGI and our government has been working closely with the manufacturer Pfizer, vaccine providers and states and territories, to ensure Australian children will have access to this safe and effective vaccine as a priority.”

media_cameraA nurse prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children in Montreal, Canada – Australian authorities are monitoring Canadian data to determine the best interval between doses. Picture: AFP

Moderna’s vaccine is being evaluated for use on children aged six to 11, with supply deals in place should it be approved.

Vaccination remains the greatest protection against severe Covid-19 disease and disruption to the lives of children aged under 12. TGA deputy secretary Professor John Skerritt said although children did not generally get as sick from Covid as adults, there were still some “sobering* statistics” about the rates of illness.

“A bit over a fifth of all cases of Covid are actually in the under 12, and indeed some of the early data with Omicron suggests that may actually be highest for Omicron variant,” he said.

“While those kids do get a fairly mild infection, and only a limited number end up in ICU, which was great, there are bigger impacts.

“Unfortunately, about one in 3000 of the kids who get Covid actually end up with … (an) immunological* condition called multi-system inflammatory* condition and those kids can end up being very sick for a month.”

media_cameraCharles Muro, 13, celebrates being vaccinated in the US on May 13, 2021. Since the vaccine was approved for in Australia for ages 12-15 just 11 weeks ago, more than three quarters of eligible kids have had one dose, with 67.5 per cent having received both jabs. Picture: AFP

Prof Skerritt said another important reason to get younger children vaccinated was to ensure they could “live a normal life” without restrictions.

“The effects on social, educational, sporting and physical development of these kids has been affected by Covid,” he said.

“The ability to vaccinate those kids is so that they can return to those activities.”

Under Pfizer’s provisional TGA approval, first and second doses must be at least three weeks apart.

But Prof Skerritt said Australia’s expert immunisation panel may recommend an eight-week interval, based on feedback from Canadian authorities, to get a stronger immune response.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he hoped there would be a strong uptake among the newly eligible* ages.

“We’re very hopeful that we can cover this young cohort from very early next year,” he said.

GLOSSARY

  • variant: something that is slightly different to other similar things
  • therapeutic: relating to the healing of disease
  • provisionally: subject to further approval, for the time being, incomplete or conditional
  • rigorous: thorough, careful, diligent, attentive
  • sobering: serious, even a bit worrying, provokes reflection and thought
  • immunological: relating to the immune system
  • inflammatory: something that makes the body react to injury, disease or irritation of tissue
  • eligible: allowed, permitted, entitled

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many children in Australia are aged between five to 11?
  2. What date is the rollout expected to begin?
  3. Which authority granted provisional approval for the Pfizer vaccine use in children?
  4. Which body must now consider which groups can have the vaccine?
  5. What proportion of kids aged 12-15 have had their first jab and what percentage has had two?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Covid vaccine for kids
Work with a partner and draw a T column down on your page. The heading at the top of your page should be ‘How Covid has affected my life’. On the left side of the column, write all the things that have affected you in your life during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, no community sport like basketball etc. On the right side of the column, detail how this affected you in a negative or even positive way (fitness dropped; more time with family).

The government plan is to ensure you are not affected significantly anymore by this virus and the restrictions it has placed upon us all.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
If a 6ml dose of Pfizer is given to a 12 year old, how much would be given to a five year old?

Why do you think they might ask kids to wait eight weeks between doses rather than three to six for adults?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
1. Summarise the article
A summary is a brief statement of the main points of something. It does not usually include extra detail or elaborate on the main points.

Use the 5W & H model to help you find the key points of this article. Read the article carefully to locate who and what this article is about, and where, when, why and how this is happening. Once you have located this information in the article, use it to write a paragraph that summarises the article.

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