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Vaccine rollout for primary school students not likely until New Year

Staff writers, November 8, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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Victoria’s St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School students Lara, year 1, Austin, year 6 and Eden, year 3, were thrilled to get back to school, but it’s unlikely they and their classmates will be able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of the year. Picture: Rob Leeson media_cameraVictoria’s St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School students Lara, year 1, Austin, year 6 and Eden, year 3, were thrilled to get back to school, but it’s unlikely they and their classmates will be able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of the year. Picture: Rob Leeson

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Australian kids aged five to 11 will likely have to wait until early next year for a Covid-19 vaccine.

Professor Allen Cheng, co-chair of the panel considering whether children should receive the jab, said a decision on Pfizer was still weeks away.

“I wouldn’t expect that we’ll be vaccinating kids before the end of the school year, and maybe not even until early next year,” he said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has also said that a paediatric* vaccine is unlikely to be approved this year, despite last week calling for primary students in the state to have at least one dose before the summer holidays.

“It would seem to me that it’s probably early next year,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.

The US is now vaccinating five to 11 year olds with a third of the adult Pfizer dose, after its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week granted emergency approval.

Children Receive Covid Vaccine In Fairfax County, Virginia media_cameraA child receives the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination at the Fairfax County Government Center on November 04, 2021 in Annandale, Virginia. The US federal government approved the coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 only last week. Picture: AFP

Pfizer has begun its application for Therapeutic* Goods Administration approval here. But Professor Cheng said the regulator needed to assess its quality, effectiveness and side effects.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) would then make recommendations about the program, while the Commonwealth organised doses.

National cabinet has agreed to roll out a children’s vaccination program, if given the green light by regulatory bodies.

Professor Cheng said immunosuppressed* children and those with other medical conditions may be prioritised for the Covid-19 jab because the benefits versus risk was different than in healthy children.

“If the registration comes through and there is available product, they would be top of the list for our consideration,” he said.

If ATAGI concludes that the benefits outweigh the risks in all children, it could be a one-step process. But it may wait for more data from the US.

“It’ll happen when it happens,” Professor Cheng said.

But other Commonwealth officials were more optimistic* about the timeline for child vaccinations, with deputy chief medical officer Dr Sonya Bennett saying on Sunday she anticipated a decision this year.

“I don’t think it will be months away at all, the decision,” she said.

“The program might be a while off, but I think we’ll have a decision I would think this year. But I can’t pre-empt*. It is a TGA decision.”

Dr Bennett said the TGA was “currently” looking at Pfizer’s application.

COVID-19 PRESSER media_cameraThe Australian Government’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Sonya Bennett thinks a decision about vaccinating children under 12 is coming soon – but said the program itself “might be a while off”. Picture: Gary Ramage

Government sources also indicated they expected a TGA decision within the month, and Health Minister Greg Hunt has repeatedly stated supply would be immediately available.

Deakin University chair of epidemiology* Professor Catherine Bennett said the risk of serious illness among kids was “still low”. But vaccinated family members would lower the risk of transmission at home and prevent it being brought to school.

The NSW government is meanwhile moving to set up infrastructure* so children can be vaccinated in classrooms, to speed up the rollout once it is approved.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said children under 12 could get their Covid vaccine on school grounds.

“We are in discussions with Health about making school sites available for vaccination clinics,” she said. “This is something I very much support. I want to make it as easy as possible for families to get their children vaccinated.”

Weather media_cameraEveryone is looking forward to the summer holidays after another challenging year – but it is unlikely Australian kids under the age of 12 will be vaccinated until next year. Siblings Lily and Josh Birmingham are pictured enjoying Brisbane’s South Bank beach at the end of the last school holidays. Picture: Zak Simmonds

SUMMER SNAPSHOT

States and territories have different restrictions in place for managing the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, but generally Australian children currently ineligible for the jab assume the vaccination status of their parents.

Settings for masks remain in high risk travel settings like airports and public transport systems, but age limits may vary. If the vaccination rollout for kids under 12 is delayed until next year, schools and families should take relevant health orders into account.

For instance, current mask rules will likely remain in Victoria until younger students are eligible for vaccination. Students in year 3 and above in the state are currently required to wear a face mask in the classroom, and masks are strongly recommended for prep to year 2.

Unvaccinated kids will also continue to spend 14 days in isolation if they are identified as a close contact in both Victoria and NSW – although one parent can be the designated “primary carer” of an unvaccinated child in isolation in NSW, allowing the rest of the family to move freely.

Parents should check updated state and territory health department guidelines prior to travel.

Border Opens media_cameraAn arrivals board bounces back to life at Melbourne Airport on November 5 after NSW and Victoria reopened borders to allow free travel between Australia’s two biggest states. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Andrew Henshaw

GLOSSARY

  • paediatric: branch of medicine related to children and their diseases
  • therapeutic: relating to the treatment of infection and disease
  • immunosuppressed: less efficient immune system
  • optimistic: hopeful, confident, positive about the future or the outcome of something
  • pre-empt: to do or say something before someone else does, to anticipate
  • epidemiology: medical science dealing with the incidence, spread and control of disease
  • infrastructure: physical and organisational structures and facilities like buildings and security

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What proportion of the adult Pfizer dose are children aged five to 11 now receiving in the US?
  2. What are the three things Professor Cheng said the regulator needed to assess in Pfizer’s application?
  3. Where does NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell want children to be vaccinated?
  4. Currently Victorian students need to wear a mask in the classroom from what grade?
  5. How long do unvaccinated students currently have to spend in isolation in Victoria and NSW if they are deemed a close contact of a Covid case?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Vaccine considerations
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is doing thorough research and analysis before approving a Covid-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11, which explains why it is taking longer than first thought. What do you think this research and testing would be focusing on? What might be the future health implications for young people of receiving this vaccine?




Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
As the five to 11 year old age bracket is quite young, parents would have to make this decision for their children. Do you think children should get a say or let their parents make the health decisions for them?

Would you like to receive the vaccine as soon as it is available? Explain why or why not.

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

VCOP ACTIVITY
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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